Hugh Grant was trying to find his feet in Hollywood when Extreme Measures was released around the time of his infamous arrest on Sunset Boulevard by the vice squad. Did that hamper this film’s commercial potential? Maybe. But it’s definitely worth a look.
Medical thriller Extreme Measures is unfairly dismissed because, according to USA Today’s Mike Clark, it turns into a “melodramatic debate about ethics”. Certainly, it questions the decisions doctors make. By shifting the goalposts, depending on the moral values of the medical professional, we see the line between right and wrong engulfed in an ethical powerplay. But never is it melodramatic. Admittedly, the ending needs cutting by a few minutes but it features one cracking twist. That complements a first hour boasting immersive mystery that enjoys some well-orchestrated red herrings and an entertaining, Hitchcockian “wrong man” motif.
Dull. Boring. Melodramatic. I don’t think so. But then again, Hugh Grant was still trying to find his feet in Hollywood after achieving international stardom in 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral. The first major American studio films he made (Extreme Measures included) were also affected by his 1995 arrest by Los Angeles vice police over an incident with a Sunset Boulevard prostitute. While Nine Months (released in 1995) proved to be a box office success, Extreme Measures and his next movie, Mickey Blues Eyes, were major commercial flops and Grant took some time away. It wasn’t until three years later that he returned to the big screen.
If you’re looking for reasons why this Michael Apted-directed effort was quickly forgotten, perhaps Grant’s already awkward public image (he has referred to himself as the “grumpy Londoner”) made worse by on-set revelations (Robert Downey Jr. made it clear he hated working with him on 1995’s Restoration) and ill-advisedly purchasing the talents of Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown, put the posh-sounding Brit into the shadows before really getting the chance to enjoy the limelight.
And that means his performance in Extreme Measures gets forgotten about. Everything about his middle-class-ism here works to supplement the character’s fish-out-of-water fragility, the refined English accent boasting an air of intellectual good-schooling ahead of his New York fight against a gun-wielding heavy mob (displayed here by typecast actor David Morse and Bill Nunn). Grant might be better known for mainstream comedy but a good thriller needs a protagonist you can sympathise with and root for, and Extreme Measures has one in the Hammersmith-born man.
And we mustn’t forget the antagonist of the piece. There have been some great Gene Hackman thrillers over the years and Extreme Measures is definitely one of them. He makes acting look so simple, the subtleties of his perverse ego as Dr. Lawrence Myrick hiding a rather monstrous God Complex. He is the villainous face of the ethical quandary Tony Gilroy poses in his terrific script. Indeed, Gilroy, who would go on to write The Bourne Identity films and be nominated for Academy Awards for writing and directing Michael Clayton, presents this thriller with a wonderful sense of efficiency.
Extreme Measures deserves to be revisited by those who once dismissed it while new viewers should prepare for a film that understands the components of its generic conventions and, by serving an expectant audience with the usual potpourri of twists, red herrings and everyman peril, delivers on its promise to thrill and entertain.