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EXTREME MEASURES

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Hugh Grant, Gene Hackman, Sarah Jessica Parker, David Morse, Bill Nunn, Paul Guilfoyle
Director: Michael Apted
Audio: English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: December 14, 1999

Film ****

Very rarely does one come across a suspense thriller with intelligence like Extreme Measures. It's a professionally made thriller that contains very smart characters, brilliantly written dialogue, and even some Hitchcockian paranoia to go along on the side. It's a thriller filled with ideas and issues to talk about after the viewing. The movie deals very thoughtfully with the ethics and moral decisions that come along with the profession of practicing medicine. Imagine if you were the head doctor in charge, and you had two just arrived patients in the ER; one a cop, the other a drug dealer, who both have minor gunshot wounds. To make matters worse, only one room in the entire hospital building was available to operate a patient in. Who would you operate on first, especially if the drug dealer was in much critical condition? It's a startling moral value that I had never thought about before this movie expressed it to me in an effective way.

At the same time, Extreme Measures succeeds in creating a thoroughly intriguing suspense yarn. The central plot is about numerous bodies that seem to vanish without a trace from both the ER and hospital computer database at New York's Gramercy Hospital. The film's hero is Dr. Guy Luthan, played by Hugh Grant in a marvelous revelation of a performance. The mystery begins when Luthan encounters a patient; a naked man who seems to be slowly dying from uncontrollable convulsion. The patient dies a few minutes later before Luthan can determine what was wrong with the man. He then goes to search for an autopsy report for the deceased man, only to discover that the body, as well as all of the necessary records for it, has mysteriously disappeared. At risk of losing his medicine-practicing license, Luthan initiates a personal investigation as to where the body went, and who was responsible. He questions everyone from workers at the morgue, to his colleagues, to even his boss who explicitly warns Guy to refrain from looking any further.

In the midst of those events, we are then introduced to another key character, Dr. Lawrence Myrick (Gene Hackman). Myrick has just been awarded a prestigious medal in his profession for his work on successfully regenerating damaged spinal columns on lab rats. At a banquet celebration Luthan, who admires Myrick's work asks for his opinion on what the reason for his recently disappeared corpse could have been. Even Myrick himself seems befuddled by Guy's point of questioning. At the same time, two corrupt cops, played by David Morse and Bill Nunn, who appear to be interested in the disappeared patient, begin to spy on Luthan, hoping to cease him from questioning any further.

It is here that Extreme Measures uses a familiar plot device, which is the innocent man who has been wrongly accused, but it doesn't lower the enjoyment of the movie. If anything, it increases it and draws you in even more. In this case, Guy is suddenly arrested for possession of drugs, which the cops find in his apartment when they received a report of a disturbance at Luthan's apartment. We know that he has been framed, but it is a very good set up since Luthan's has appeared extremely paranoid to those around him. Suspended permanently by his hospital, Guy continues his personal investigation, which leads him to some memorably creepy areas where an endless amount of suspense is generated.

The movie's director, Michael Apted, does a wonderful job of capturing the setting of New York, and especially creating an atmosphere of mystery in the places that Guy finds himself in late in the picture. Mid-point in the movie, Guy finds himself in an underground shelter, where it becomes clear to him why his patient died, and why the body disappeared. It leads to a spine-tingling, tension filled showdown in a nearby subway tunnel between Guy and the two cops who are out to silence him.

I mentioned Grant's performance as a revelation, and it truly is. Prior to this movie, Grant was basically known for his brash, dry wit in such comedies as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Nine Months. Here, he breaks free of that mold, creating a totally believable performance of a doctor who is very intelligent and isn't easy to fool. Credit should also go to screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who creates a certain level of intelligence that you simply don't find in thrillers. Extreme Measures is one of the most effective, thought provoking thrillers of the 90s, and I highly recommend it to all suspense fans.

Video ***1/2

A surprisingly wonderful looking disc from Warner Bros. Considering that the disc was given the old dual-sided treatment, I was curious as to how the transfer would turn out. The results were more than impressive. Image is continuously sharp, despite a few instances of grain that only present themselves in a couple of scenes. An anamorphically enhanced presentation that displays nicely.

Audio ****

One of few audio transfers that delivers an A+ quality with a 2.0 Surround track. The soundtrack, action scenes, and every possible background noise is captured to enhance a highly suspenseful effect. An all-around surprise of transfer that is more excellent than one might expect.

Features ** 

Only a trailer.

Summary:

Extreme Measures, and underrated movie, should be seen by all fans of thrillers, especially that of Hitchcockian suspense, which the movie delivers quite a bit of. A rare intelligent thriller, and one of 1996's best movies.