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.
Bourne Legacy, The (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Eric Byer (Edward Norton), a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force, is assigned to analyze, determine, and contain the damage that Jason Bourne started after information about the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs have been exposed to the public. He is also in charge of protecting the interests of the Outcome project which involves pharmaceuticals that have the capacity to enhance a person’s physicality and intelligence. Enter Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), one of the select participants of the program who relies on the drugs for his training. His stock has run out and in his attempt to get some more from Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), he becomes Eric Byer’s primary target.
Imagine being struck by a bat on the back of the head and then immediately being asked to solve a rather complicated jigsaw puzzle. That is how I felt while watching the first act of “The Bourne Legacy,” based on the screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy, so early in the game but we are already neck-deep in the secret intelligence politics and seething frustrations of the officials in charge of trying to figure out who knows what and what can be done to prevent a bad situation from turning much worse.
The intercutting between Byer’s desperation to keep a lid on whatever is going on and Cross’ adventures in the snowy mountains of Alaska does not work because the latter is executed in a much more interesting manner than the former. Scowls and intense glares in a professional environment grow very dull quite quickly when the reasons behind the muted commotions and conflicting motivations are not always clear. I longed for the picture shift its focus on Cross and his interactions with an enigmatic man in the cabin (Oscar Isaac). There is a palpable tension between the two men, one friendly and the other reticent, because we are not quite sure how they are going to react to one another. One gets up from the table and our eyes are drawn to him, especially his limbs, because we expect them to duke it out any second.
Aside from the chilling killings in a research facility, the middle section sags like a deflated balloon. It is a mercilessly drawn-out rising action. The point where Dr. Shearing and Cross decide to work together has a slight sense of immediacy, but it feels a little bit too forced. For example, instead of being immersed in the duo’s struggles to go undetected at an airport, I was constantly reminded that I was watching an action-thriller because there are plenty of familiar elements designed to make us nervous for the characters like the two of them having to line up and get their boarding passes stamped. Of course they are bound to make it through the checkpoints. However, there is no surprise waiting for them–and us–once they do.
The momentum manages to pick up a notch with the scenes set in Manila. While the expected rooftop foot chase sequence proves underwhelming, the chase involving a motorcycle and a police car is an exciting wake-up call. I loved the way the film captures the place’s lack of space which renders the drivers impossible to safely maneuver their vehicles. When we are allowed to appreciate the lack of distance between the machines, there is a real sense of danger from the images shared.
“The Bourne Legacy” reshuffles familiar elements that have come to define the series. We know these elements work but it is the handling that it is ultimately lacking. If the intention is to reboot the series, I am not convinced that using the same bag of tricks is the smartest decision because Jason Bourne has cast such a large shadow, what once felt new is now hackneyed and formulaic. The resolution suggests that we will see these characters again. However, with such a lackadaisical resolution, if it is granted to be called as such, I cannot help but wonder if I really want to.
★★★ / ★★★★
Writer-director Tony Gilroy’s spy film “Duplicity” greatly benefits from the two very charismatic leads, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. The two met four years ago when both were on a mission in Dubai. Unknowing Owen, an MI6 agent at the time, hits on Roberts whose mission was to steal some documents for the CIA. After a one-night stand, Roberts leaves and the film shows the two of them meeting again in New York four years later in very amusing circumstances. This is not the kind of spy movie where objects blow up and people end up dying. The target audience of this picture are those who are into astute and often confusing storytelling that eventually makes more and more sense toward the end. I mentioned that this was confusing but I meant it in a very good way. It managed to keep me guessing from beginning to end because it kept pulling the rug from under my feet. I was invested in the two lead characters because I constantly had to reevaluate who was trying to trick who and up to what point they start to trust each other (or if it’s ever possible). After all, the two are in a relationship and trust is a requisite in order for such a thing to be successful. I liked the suppporting characters, mainly Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti as two rival major pharmaceutical executives. Their intense performances were so ridiculous to the point where I ended up chuckling or laughing out loud whenever they were on screen. While the picture did have its slow moments, such scenes were a nice break from the constant one-upmanship between the timeless Roberts and suave Owen. There were times where I almost preferred watching them banter in the bedroom instead of being on the outside playing professionals. As for its ending, I thought it was wonderful; there was something very comical about the whole thing for two reasons: I didn’t see it coming and it was very ironic. Overall, the film had a nice flow to it because it had a nice balance of light thrills and genuine dramatic weight. I very much enjoyed Owen and Roberts in “Closer” as well as in this film. Hopefully, in the near future, they’ll team up again to spice up the screen.