There are several films on my favorite list but the one that edges out all the others is Extreme Measures with Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman. For me this movie ticks all the boxes for a brilliant thriller that stays with you long after the closing credits.
It opens with a riveting hook – two naked men running out a door into a New York alley, clearly fleeing for their lives. Within ten feet one of them falls and the other stops to help him up, and with that simple gesture these two become heroic figures for me and I have to know what happens to them.
The next scene introduces the hero, Dr Guy Luthan (Grant), in the midst of a medical crisis in the ER of a nearby hospital. Luthan handles the situation with cool efficiency and even manages to inject some humor. But what makes him so sympathetic to me is the decision he’s faced with: two injured men – a gold shield cop and the addict who shot him – both need immediate life-saving surgery and, with only one OR available, Luthan has to choose who gets it.
When challenged later by a young nurse, Luthan tries to defend his decision. In his position of power he could easily quash his critic but instead concedes he may have made a moral rather than a medical choice. Efficiency, composure, humor, honesty. If ever there’s a lesson on how to create a likeable character, for me this is it.
The next patient to land on Luthan’s ER table is one of the naked men from the opening scene. With bizarre symptoms and test readings off the charts, he poses a total mystery for Luthan.
When the patient dies and the body disappears from the morgue, Luthan feels compelled to investigate. He uncovers the conspiracy of a fellow neurologist, Dr Mirack (Hackman) who is kidnapping homeless people for illegal experiments.
What elevates Mirack above your average evil scientist is his motivation: to help restore mobility in victims of spinal cord injury. A brilliant and devoted surgeon, he firmly believes he’s doing a good thing.
Luthan’s mission to uncover the truth takes him to a terrifying underground world and nearly costs him his life and career. Ultimately however he exposes Mirack and justice is served.
If the movie ended there it would still be great but it goes one step further. In the closing scene, Mirack’s wife approaches Luthan and hands him a package containing all her husband’s research notes.
Luthan, a gifted neurologist himself and with the same goals Mirack had, is left with another difficult choice – follow ‘proper’ medical protocols and wait years to attain his objective, or take Mirack’s path?
There’s lots more I could say of this movie but I think you can see why it’s my favorite.