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Film: Desperate Measures

Peter McCabe: What do you have to offer me, Frank?
Frank Conner: Redemption.
Peter McCabe: If I can't eat it, drink it, fuck it or fire it, I ain't interested!
Frank Conner: But you're coming with me all the same.

Desperate Measures is a 1998 Action/Thriller about a San Fransisco Police Officer names Frank Conner, played by Andy Garcia, trying to find a bone marrow donor for his son, Matt who has leukemia. He discovers a compatible donor in an imprisoned criminal named Peter McCabe, played by Michael Keaton, and must convince him to donate his bone marrow. McCabe, who is deemed a dangerous sociopath, takes very little convincing to go along with Frank's request. McCabe has his own plan to escape which he pursues ruthlessly, and it's up to Frank to chase him down in time to save his son's life.


Contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Peter McCabe retorts that he doesn't have much faith in fathers after Frank says he tries to be a good dad to Matt.
    McCabe: "Aint that nice, you tried. Even my daddy could say that. He beat the shit out of me every day but y'know, he tried."
  • Anti-Villain: McCabe is a mix of Type 1 and 2. He has no particular desire to steal or murder or commit any crimes for his own gain or For the Evulz. He just wants to escape and disappear, and he'll gladly kill to do it.
  • Boxed Crook: In the original deal, McCabe is offered some more prison comforts if he'll donate his bone marrow.
  • Chase Scene: Frank's wheeled pursuit of McCabe towards the film's climax.
  • Combat Pragmatist: McCabe will use his fists, knives, guns, syringes filled with hydrochloric acid, and everything up to improvised explosives to fight the cops and escape.
  • Criminal Mind Games
  • Crusading Widower: Frank's wife is a Posthumous Character at the start of the film and all he has left is his son.
  • The Determinator: Both Frank Conner and Peter McCabe. Much of the film is built around the idea of two determinators with opposing goals colliding with each other. It's even Lampshaded by McCabe as the quality he most admires in a person.
    McCabe: Go Frank! Now you see that? There is a lesson for us all. That man has a goal and he is determined to achieve it, no matter what.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: McCabe would never kill a child, despite threatening to do so.
  • Evil Genius: McCabe is described as having no real formal education above the ninth grade, but possesses an IQ of over 150.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Peter McCabe is very pleasant with Frank and the hospital staff, yet attempts to kill many of them without hesitation in order to escape.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: McCabe is first seen wearing glasses with a cold emotionless expression on his face.
  • Freudian Excuse: McCabe claims his father "beat the shit out of him" every day.
  • God Is Evil: McCabe says he can't imagine any other kind could possibly exist.
  • Hollywood Hacking: McCabe's exploitation of the prison computer systems borders on this.
  • I Just Want To Be Free: All that McCabe really wants, and he'll do anything to get it.
  • Indy Ploy: McCabe appears to be a master of thinking on his feet and exploiting whatever he can find for his own ends.
  • Justified Criminal: McCabe, by his own twisted logic.
  • Karma Houdini: The end of the film implies that after being recaptured and donating the bone marrow, McCabe still escapes scott-free.
  • Kick the Dog: McCabe takes Matt as a hostage to keep Frank from pursuing him in the maintenance tunnels of the hospital and threatens to kill Matt and 'make Frank's problem go away forever'. Later, McCabe admits to Matt that he'd never kill him, but making the threat is still a pretty disgusting thing to do.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: McCabe is barely slowed down by a bullet to the leg for most of the film.
  • Must Let Them Get Away: At several times, Frank must allow McCabe to escape because killing him would destroy his viability as a donor, and McCabe offers Frank no other choice but to let him run or kill him outright.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: McCabe doesn't believe in any kind of morality and feels no remorse for his victims, saying he could not imagine a god who would care. However, it's Matt who truly believes in futility as he has come to accept that there is no hope and that his leukemia will kill him.
  • Noodle Incident: McCabe is apparently a mass murderer, but he is only presented in any detail as having killed prison guards and fellow inmates, leaving little explanation of the murders that landed him in prison in the first place. McCabe does describe his first victims as "a lady in a hat" and "a guy in a store", but no further details are given.
  • Not So Different: When Matt tries to disarm McCabe with a wrench, Peter comments that they definitely have compatible genes.
  • Papa Wolf: Frank doesn't take kindly to guns being pointed at his son.
  • Pet the Dog: McCabe towards Matt, the only person he shows any kindness to. He even urges Matt to become The Determinator and keep fighting like Peter and Frank do. He still doesn't put Matt's life over his own freedom though.
  • Playing Against Type: Michael Keaton was best known in the 80s and 90s for playing edgy comedy characters, and Batman.
  • Redemption Rejection: McCabe doesn't even care for redemption, seeing it as an empty meaningless concept.
  • Schiff One-Liner: "What kind of car do you have?"
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Frank Conner all but destroys his career in order to pursue McCabe to save his son.
  • Shipped in Shackles: McCabe is far too dangerous to be transferred between locations without handcuffs on his hands and feet.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Frank's Boss, Capt. Jeremiah Cassidy.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: McCabe, just a little bit.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Peter McCabe never exactly warms up, but ultimately comes to respect Frank for loving his son in a way that McCabe was never loved by his own father.
  • Troubled Child: Matt has become heartbreakingly resigned to dying young to the point where he has become a Nietzsche Wannabe.
  • The Unfettered: Peter McCabe. While there are some lines Frank Conner won't cross, there is no line that is sacred for McCabe.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: McCabe is perfectly willing to kill people who try to kill or capture him but he won't shoot innocent children.

Dark SkiesPsychological ThrillerDonnie Darko
Deep RisingFilms of the 1990sThe Dinner Game

alternative title(s): Desperate Measures
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