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Film / Extreme Measures

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Extreme Measures is a 1996 thriller film directed by Michael Apted and 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.

Guy Luthan (Hugh Grant) is 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 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.
  • Accidental Murder: The film's climax has Myrick killed when Luthan is fighting Hare over his gun, a stray shot from which hits him in the neck.
  • 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 possibly sets back a cure for spinal cord injuries by decades. However, Myrick's wife gives Guy all her husband's research data in the hope that Guy could finish what Dr. Myrick started in a more legal and ethical way.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Apparently, even villains aren't exempt from this trope—when Burke and Hare confront Guy in the tunnels, it's Burke who gets run over by a train while Hare continues to chase Guy.
  • Chekhov's Gun: We see Agent Hare leaving his home, being bade farewell by his paralyzed wife, then Detective Burke 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: Burke and Hare, technically. Finances might be the motive, but even then, it's likely to help their loved ones too.
  • Disposable Vagrant: The film opens with one of those vagrants seeking help from Guy, 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. As he notes, it wasn't their choice to make that sacrifice.
  • 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.
  • Frame-Up: Luthan has medical cocaine planted in his apartment when it's broken into by the dirty cops, to get him arrested and fired from the hospital so he can't investigate the disappearances further.
  • 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.
  • I Can't Feel My Legs!: It's worse than that - the character in question can't feel anything. He suffered a broken neck and is permanently paralyzed from the neck down.
  • 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 are hitmen.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Burke and Hare, the dirty cops working for Myrick, share their last names with two infamous Scottish murderers that killed people then provided their cadavers for medical research, similarly to the film (although the actual pair's motives were far less altruistic).
  • 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. The deaths of a few homeless men are just an unfortunate price to pay for it.
  • Motive Rant:
    Myrick: People die every day. And for what? For nothing. Plane crash. Train wreck. Bosnia. Pick your tragedy. Sniper at a restaurant, fifteen dead, Story at Eleven. What do we do? What do you do? You change the channel, you move onto the next patient, 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. So do you.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: March and Hare setting up Guy to get him fired and stop his investigation only makes him that much more determined to find the truth, which eventually exposes Triphase.
  • Passing the Torch: Myrick's wife hands over all the research data to Dr. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Happened to the Mouse?: At the end, Luthan is working at NYU's Neurology Department. How he was cleared of the drug charges is not shown, as otherwise they probably wouldn't hire him. The final setting and dialog between Luthan and a colleague suggests that there was a major time skip between scenes. Jodie is mentioned as starting over again in the Fall. This would indicate a major criminal investigation had taken place with the conspirators pleading out or facing trials of their own. Guy and Jodie definitely would have been called as witnesses.
  • 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? Wouldn't that be the brave thing to do? One person, and cancer's gone tomorrow?
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Well, he admitted it.