Extreme Measures (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★
Two men (Shaun Austin-Olsen, André De Shields) wearing no clothing run out of a building, desperate to get away from a car with two men holding guns (David Morse, Bill Nunn). Claude and Teddy decide to go their separate ways for a better chance of survival. Claude ends up in Gramercy Hospital under the care of Dr. Guy Luthan (Hugh Grant). But the patient is barely able to speak because his very high fever is accompanied by uncontrollable body seizures, requiring about six people to hold him down. When Claude’s smorgasbord of strange symptoms calm down on their own, seconds before his death, the patient mentions “Triphase” which Dr. Luthan assumes to be a drug. The doctor is deeply bothered by the incident so he decides to investigate.
Based on the novel by Michael Palmer, “Extreme Measures” works like a treacherous vine that slowly wraps around the audience. When it finally decides to put on the squeeze, it is too late for us to resist its dark charms. Our minds are too invested in the mystery that connects doctors, cops, and homeless men.
The early scenes in the emergency room unfold with great fascination. Because Dr. Luthan is inevitably our eyes, ears, and moral center, there has to be something concrete about him that we can root for. In the emergency ward, we learn about his capacity to deal with stress. Not only does he have to make rapid and astute decisions about which drug to use or which tool is necessary to make the patient more comfortable, he has to take into consideration the various personalities of his staff, patients, and random onlookers. When he is asked to make a decision to give the only operating room available to either a criminal or a cop, I swore I held my breath.
The distinction between a moral and medical decision is a fine line indeed. He gains my attention and confidence not because I thought he made the right or wrong call. It is because he deals with his decision seriously yet not without a sense of humor.
Tony Gilroy’s screenplay consistently increases the ante with Dr. Luthan snooping around certain dark rooms because no one can or will bother to answer his questions about Claude’s missing corpse, but I wished it has less scenes of suggestive romance between our protagonist and a nurse (Sarah Jessica Parker). While Grant and Parker are convincing in their roles, the romantic angle feels forced and ultimately distracts from the mystery and thrills. It does not help that there is a drought of chemistry between the actors when they give each other too knowing dreamy looks.
I would rather have seen more of Dr. Myrick (Gene Hackman) and the methods of his research. At times, the material challenges us whether the nature of his work makes him the villain of the piece. After all, there is no denying that he just hopes to give people with severe spinal injuries a chance to be able to go on with their lives again.
Directed by Michael Apted, “Extreme Measures” poses interesting questions about ethics and morals in medicine and research. Though most are left unanswered, it is most understandable. The answers that matter most are sometimes found in ourselves and they may not necessarily be so easy to come to terms with.
★★★ / ★★★★
Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) was hired to coach an Indiana high school basketball team. He used to coach college basketball for twelve years, but he spent the last ten years in the Navy. The small town’s residents seriously questioned Norman’s qualifications and strange methods of training. After all, what could a man who spent his last decade on water impart when it came to basketball? Based on a true story of underdogs, “Hoosiers,” written by Angelo Pizzo and directed by David Anspaugh, made a sport I thought was uninteresting into an exciting, touching, and inspiring film that also touched upon what it meant to give and receive a second chance. Immediately did I admire Hackman’s character because of his determination to turn a team with raw potential into a force that worked as a single unit. Despite the town’s constant interference accompanied by unwarranted threats, he didn’t question himself and his methods. There was something about his confidence that I found comforting. The way Norman eventually earned his team’s respect felt natural because communication and wanting to change were established as a two-way street. There was no one rousing speech that changed everything the next day. Dennis Hopper as the assistant coach named Shooter was equally strong and compelling. In fact, I believed Hopper delivered two performances. The first was an alcoholic who lived in isolation and the other was a father who desperately wanted to make his son, a member of the basketball team, to be proud of him. We weren’t always certain whether Shooter would be able to defeat his alcoholism. Unlike the game which consisted of rules, statistics and a certain level of predictability, alcoholism was indeed another breed. It was a disease and the person inflicted could be fine one day and a complete wreck the next. The picture was successful in generating tension because its backbone in terms of the drama behind the basketball games was consistently in focus. When the big games arrived, it felt like there was more at stake, that winning would mean something more than a trophy and a title. It meant pride for the townsfolk who didn’t quite reach their dreams but nonetheless loved their town unconditionally. It meant a boost of morale for the players who worked tirelessly to improve their game. It also meant unity between newcomers and a town who didn’t like the idea of change. I only wished the romantic connection between Norman and Myra (Barbara Hershey), a fellow teacher, was either further explored or taken out completely. In a film with already so much heart, it didn’t need to feature a romantic interest in order to get us to care more than we already did. “Hoosiers” is often cited as one of the best sports drama depicted on film and with excellent reasons. Given that I’m not a big fan of basketball, I found my eyes transfixed on the ball and the scoreboard.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Two charismatic strangers named Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty) teamed up and decided to rob banks in the Depression-era 1930s. Their adventures eventually led them to take in other people including C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), Buck Barrow (Gene Hackman), and Blanche Barrow (Estelle Parsons). I’ve heard a lot about this movie via references from other pictures and television shows so I expected a lot from it. I have to say that it more than impressed because although it was initially about criminals who simply wanted some sort of excitement in their lives, we eventually really got to know them such as how they felt toward each other, their own insecurities and their realization that they wanted to leave the life of crime and start over. In under two hours, Arthur Penn, the director was able to helm a movie with sympathetic characters (when they shouldn’t be because they’ve killed people, especially considering when the film was released) and come full circle when it comes to the story. I also liked the dialogue and the passion in the body language of the actors, notably Dunaway. At times, I would pay attention more on what she was doing instead of what she was saying–something that I often catch myself doing when I’m conversing with someone. So I consider that a very good thing because it means she’s established a bridge between the character and the audience. Lastly, I enjoyed that this picture tried to be more than a series of action sequences. It actually had humor–especially when Gene Wilder appeared on screen–and real dramatic weight, which adds another layer to its substance. I think “Bonnie and Clyde” is rightfully considered as one of the greatest American films because even though it was undoubtedly violent, it really was more about the drama in wanting to escape situations with increasing amount of gravity. Pretty much every minute was efficient and I was fascinated with what was going to happen with the characters even though I knew of their fates. If one hasn’t seen “Bonnie and Clyde,” one should make it a priority. My only regret is that I hadn’t seen it sooner.
★★★★ / ★★★★
I’ve always wondered about this classic western about three men (Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Jaimz Woolvett) who decided to hunt down two other men who cut up a woman’s face (Anna Levine) for the price of $1000, but I was always reluctant to see it because the western genre is my least favorite. I’m glad to have finally given it the chance it more than deserved because it absolutely blew me away. Every scene felt like a crucial piece of the puzzle in order to understand why certain things were happening and why certain things must happen. I truly identified with Eastwood as a man who used to be a drunk and a killer because every fiber of his being was fighting his inner demons regarding the people he killed for no good reason. In every frame, I felt the fierce passion in his eyes, the wounded soul in his voice and the subtleties of his body movements; it made me believe that he really was a changed man. But eventually, it was nice to see why he did not want to be that kind of person anymore, not just because he now had a family, saw the error of his ways, and wanted to set a good example, but because that person really was engulfed in such darkness whose sole motivation was to kill. All of the supporting actors were exemplary such as the villanous authority of the town played by Gene Hackman, the leader of the prostitutes played by Frances Fisher, and the kid who was so enthusiastic about killling even though he had myopia (Woolvett). Although this was a western film, I was surprised because it was very anti-violence. Even though there were shooting involved, a requisite in most western pictures, the thesis of having no honor in killing was always at the forefront. I never thought I would ever be interested in watching more western films, but after seeing “Unforgiven,” perhaps I just might. This film will definitely set the standard of my eventual foray into westerns. I can honestly say that this deserved its Best Picture and Best Director win at the Oscars because despite the film looking a bit dated, the emotions are still raw and quite timeless. Complexity within its deceitful simplicity is this film’s forté and it succeeds in every single way. That’s a rarity.
Firm, The (1993)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on a John Grisham novel, “The Firm” is about a Harvard Law School graduate named Mitch McDeere (played by Tom Cruise) who receives an offer from Bendini, Lambert & Locke with an offer that surpasses other firms’ with benefits that no man in his right mind would refuse. McDeere’s wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn), coming from a rich family, tells her husband that it’s too good to be true but McDeere ignores his wife’s concern, only to find out later on that the firm he works for are tied to organized crime like the Mob. I’m at the borderline whether or not to recommend this film because even though it managed to entertain me more than half of the time, I didn’t find any reason for it to be two hours and thirty minutes long. Though its story is shrewd, it’s not efficient in its way of telling the story. It purposely piles a stack of one complex idea after another to the point where I found myself giving up trying to find out how one thing relates to another and just observe how it would all play out. It’s a shame because this movie had powerful performances, not just from Cruise, but also from Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook and Holly Hunter. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me but I thought there were some unintentionally funny scenes during the last thirty minutes of the picture. Even though what’s being presented on screen is serious, the soundtrack suggests otherwise which was aided by Cruise’ tendency to overact. Maybe Sydney Pollack, the director, wanted to achieve something different but that lack of agreement between images and tone took me out of the experience. I feel like if it had been darker and edgier, I would enjoyed “The Firm” a lot more instead of just giving it a slight recommendation. I was very interested in the story and the way McDeere untangles himself from the trickiest situations but the execution could’ve been stronger.
French Connection, The (1971)
★★★ / ★★★★
Inspired by a true story, “The French Connection” stars Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Buddy Russo, a bad cop and a good cop, respectively. The two try to capture a French drug lord named Alain Charnier played by Fernando Rey. Hackman and Scheider consistently collide against each other because they have different ways of dealing with situations. I found this film to be really focused because right off the bat the audiences get to see how Hackman’s character is like: racist, having violent tendencies and not caring about anything else as long as a result is produced at the end of the day. Scheider is pretty much the complete opposite so it was interesting to see the partners’ dynamics in disparate situations of varying level of danger. This film won several Oscars including one for Best Picture so my expectations were really high prior to watching it. Although most people’s arguments when asked to explain why they didn’t enjoy the film was that the plot and the look of the film was dated, my problem with it was its abrupt ending. Just when things were getting really good, the credits started rolling and I was left in the dust. I was simply hungry for more. I had no problem that the movie looked dated because I’m used to seeing older films so that line of argument is a matter of acquired taste. I believe this film must be appreciated because a lot of movies that came after it used “The French Connection” as their template. The most infamous scene in this picture was when Hackman’s character tried to chase after a train. It was really exciting even though it didn’t use a lot of visual and special effects because the concept was rooted in the whole good-guy-must-capture-bad-guy schema. I also enjoyed the fact that there were many silent moments in the film where the images did most of the talking. William Friedkin, the director, was always aware that he was making an astute film for intelligent people so he didn’t result to spelling everything out in order to get a point across. Perhaps with repeated viewings I’ll love this film more and more but I don’t consider it as a great film after watching it for the first time (although it came close).
Conversation, The (1974)
★★★ / ★★★★
The masterful Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed this film about a man (Gene Hackman) who finds out and keeps track of what people are doing as a living. Having realized the fatal consequences of one of his past surveillance assignments, Hackman’s character becomes obsessive when it comes to his privacy and the types of people he keeps close to him. Right off the bat, the film is focused: two people having with what sounds like a normal conversation in public. Later on, the audiences realize that it’s no ordinary conversation and the last thirty minutes of the picture highlights the most crucial elements in that opening dialogue. I have to say that I did not see that twist coming despite my (many) guesses with what was really going on. I also didn’t expect this thriller to be so character-driven. There were a lot of scenes that took its time establishing how and why Hackman’s character is the way he is. I thought it was interesting to watch how various elements are placed in front of him and how he reacts to those elements. At first I thought he was just a man who likes to have control and doesn’t like the idea of change. But I was proven wrong because I soon realized that he is open to changes in subtle and modicum amounts as long as he still manages to stick to his basic beliefs. The film really pops whenever the idea of privacy is explored. The recorded conversation was analyzed by Hackman’s character so many times to the point where I found myself obsessing over certain details like the lead character. I had several hypothesis such as the conversation being in codes and certain lines are cues that point to something that they’re seeing; as a third party, we can’t figure out what they really mean because there’s a filter between primary and secondary sources. The story enters a final phase when obsession eventually leads to paranoia. I thought the last thirty minutes was exemplary but the last scene was the most haunting. The symbolism between the home and the mind was obvious but it was nonetheless effective because of the journey it took to get there. The only real problem I had with this film was its pacing. At times it felt too slow but that’s something that one can get used to upon repeated viewings.
Birdcage, The (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★
All of the actors in this movie contributed something hilarious and that’s what makes it so special. A gay couple, Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, who owns a drag club must meet their son’s (Dan Futterman) politically conservative family (Gene Hackman and Dianne West) and fiancée (Calista Flockhart) for the first time over dinner. One can guess that pretty much everything goes awry. Even though I’m not particularly into films that only feature homosexuality in a feminine light, there’s something about this movie that made me smile and laugh out loud. It’s easy to tell that all of the actors are having fun with their characters because sometimes it would seem that certain actions or pop culture references are a wink to the audiences. I also consider it a good thing that the talented Mike Nichols, the director, features a subculture that is so often viewed in a negative light. In here, no one gets infected or dies of AIDS, no one gets jumped, and no one commits suicide. Everyone’s pretty much happy with themselves; it’s just that the circumstances require three characters to change the way they act even for just a couple of hours. I also loved Christine Baranski as Futterman’s biological morther. She’s spunky and smart even though she seems a bit cold and tough at first glance. The one thing that didn’t work for me was the pair of journalists hoping to get the latest exposée from the conservative family. I think if various reporters were featured, the film would’ve had more chances of making fun of different types of reporters with different methods of acquiring controversial information. Still, “The Birdcage” deserves a high recommendation because it works as a farce and a classic comedy of errors. You rarely go wrong with Nichols’ films because most of them have smart characters and witty dialogues. This one is no exception.
Mississippi Burning (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★
Directed by Alan Parker, this based on a true story film follows Agents Rupert Anderson and Alan Ward (Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, respectively): how they arrived in a town in Mississippi, which predominantly favors segregation between white and blacks, and investigated the disappearances of three civil rights activists. I wish I could’ve been more into this film; it dropped my interest from time to time. Although one of its strongest elements is the stark contrast between Hackman and Dafoe’s personalities and methods of getting information, sometimes their arguments can be a bit too much. There were more than three scenes which involved the two of them arguing, which I thought was unnecessary because their actions already reflect their differences. This could’ve been a ninety-minute film without such scenes and other redundant scenes that involve burning homes and churches. I think those elements are a bit too “Hollywood” because this picture uses such images as a crutch in order to get emotions out of the audiences. They really didn’t need to because the story is powerful and important enough to instantly grab its viewers. As usual, I thought Frances McDormand is great as Brad Dourif’s conflicted wife. She might or might not know integral information about her racist husband (who also happens to be one of the members of the Ku Klux Klan) that could help Hackman and Dafoe close the case. This film is set in 1964 so the Civil Rights Movement is at the foreground. However, I would’ve liked to see an African-American to be one of the film’s heroes instead of a victim. Yes, even though it’s based on a true story, I feel like the filmmakers could’ve integrated or hinted that not only white people are doing everything they can to find the missing bodies. Other than that, this is a solid motion picture and I can understand why some university history courses do some project regarding this film. This is one of those movies that holds up a mirror in front of America: how race, fear and assumptions–to this day–still manage to bring out the darkest evil in us.