Film / Extreme Measures

Extreme Measures is a 1996 thriller film based on Michael Palmer's 1991 novel of the same name, about the ethics of how far we are willing to go, and how much we are willing to sacrifice, in order to cure the world's ills.

Hugh Grant plays Guy Luthan, a British doctor working at a hospital in New York who starts making unwanted inquiries when the body of a man who died in his emergency room disappears. The trail leads Luthan to the door of the eminent surgeon Dr. Lawrence Myrick (Gene Hackman), but Luthan soon finds himself in danger from people who want the hospital's secret to remain undiscovered.

The film also features Sarah Jessica Parker as Jodie Trammel, nurse and trusted colleague of Guy.

Extreme Measures contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: When Guy ventures beneath Grand Central Station into the maze of tunnels and keeps venturing lower and lower until there seems to be an entirely different underground city.
  • Anti-Villain: Myrick.
  • Arc Words: Triphase
  • Big Rotten Apple: And how. Aside from depicting the grittier side of New York, the film ventures well beneath the city.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Guy exposes Myrick's shady human experiments, but also sets back researches on spinal cord therapies by decades.
  • California Doubling: Set in New York, partly filmed in Toronto.
  • Chekhov's Gun: We see Agent Hare leaving his home, being bade farewell by his paralyzed wife, then the second mook leaving his house after waving goodbye to his paralyzed son, by which point, the audience starts to get an inkling of what the conspiracy is all about.
  • Deadly Doctor: Myrick. In all fairness, not intentionally, but it doesn't change the fact that everyone he's experimented on in the name of research has died.
  • Dirty Cop: Hare, technically. Finances might be his motive, but even then, it's probably to help his wife.
  • Disposable Vagrant: The film opens with one of those vagrants seeking help from Hugh Grant's character, having escaped from the experiments. Having looked such a man in the eye, he's less willing to accept the later justification that such people were making a Heroic Sacrifice to help those paralyzed by spinal damage walk again.
  • The Dragon: Agent Hare.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: As the two mooks set out to stalk and presumably kill Guy, we see each of them being bid farewell by paralyzed relatives. It's obvious from the looks exchanged that they love these people very much and their desperation to help them is no doubt why they're involved in something so nefarious.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The shot of the wheelchair-bound secretary is supposed to be a Wham Shot, but if you look closely when she's sitting at her desk, you can see that her chair is a wheelchair.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop
  • He Knows Too Much: Or rather, "he's going to know too much"
  • Hospital Hottie: Jodie Trammel, a nurse.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Arguably, everyone that works with Dr. Myrick.
  • I Never Told You My Name: When the two mooks confront Guy and the homeless men trying to assist another homeless man, they address Guy as "doc" even though he never identified himself as a doctor. Cue Guy's Oh, Crap! reaction as he realizes the guys aren't cops, but hitmen.
  • Just Think of the Potential: Myrick to Luthan
  • Malicious Slander: Luthan gets falsely accused of drug charges after he's been snooping around.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Myrick. Not really a bastard, but gets people to go along with his plans, with the hopes their loved ones will reap the benefits of his research, regardless of how unethical it is.
  • Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi Hardness: Recent breakthroughs have managed to regenerate spinal cord nerves in mice.
  • The Mole: Trammel
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: It's not that he want's to be evil, but he's getting on in his years and really wants work on his research, for the benefit of humankind.
  • Motive Rant:
    Myrick: People die every day. And for what? For nothing. What do we do? What do *you* do? You take care of the ones you think you can save. Good doctors do the correct thing. Great doctors have the guts to do the right thing. Your father had those guts.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Hare accidentally killing Myrick.
  • The Needs of the Many: Myrick's motivation — or excuse.
  • Passing the Torch: Myrick's wife hands all the research data to Luthan at the end.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: There's a subway sequence, so this was pretty much inevitable. Paired with Gory Discretion Shot as the last thing we and the unfortunate victim see are the train headlights converging on him.
  • Red Herring: At least two people who Guy clearly fears are involved in the conspiracy aren't.
  • Science Marches On: Albeit too slowly. See Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi Hardness and Harsher in Hindsight.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!:
    Luthan: Those men upstairs, maybe there isn't much point to their lives. Maybe they are doing a great thing for the world. Maybe they are heroes. But they didn't choose to be. You chose for them. You didn't choose your wife or your granddaughter, you didn't ask for volunteers. You chose for them. And you can't do that, because you're a doctor, and you took an oath, and you're not God. So I don't care, I don't care if you can do what you say you can. I don't care if you find a cure for every disease on the planet! You tortured and murdered those men upstairs, and that makes you a disgrace to your profession! And I hope you go to jail for the rest of your life.
  • The Social Darwinist: Myrick.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Played with. It's not like he's trying to take over the world, he just doesn't want to be bound by pesky human experimentation protocols.
  • Wham Shot: When Jodie's brother comes out and we see that he's wheelchair-bound. Given that we've already seen that the two mooks have wheelchair-bound loved ones, it's instantly obvious that she's involved somehow.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: Basically why Myrick decided to skip heaps of medical protocol and go straight to human experimentation by using homeless people as guinea pigs.
  • What Is One Man's Life in Comparison?: Myrick says this almost word for word, when confronted about his experiments.
    Myrick: If you could cure cancer by killing one person, wouldn't you have to do that? One person dead, and cancer's gone tomorrow!
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Well, he admitted so.