To save a loved one, how great a cost would you be willing to pay? Would you be willing to break the law? If so, which ones, and how many times? Is that one life worth the lives of others? How about a potential threat to those lives? These are several of the questions that float just below the surface of Desperate Measures, which is otherwise a routine thriller. Ultimately, the film could have been a better one with a more thorough exploration of these issues, but, as it stands, it is a mildly entertaining piece of work.
Frank Connor (Andy Garcia) is a San Francisco cop, and a dedicated father. Those two roles are about to conflict when his leukemia-stricken son needs a bone marrow transplant. Unable to find a conventional donor who is compatible, Frank turns to some ethically improper techniques to discover the one man who can save his child’s life: Peter McCabe (Michael Keaton).
However, McCabe presents a problem. It turns out that he is a sociopath, a convicted multiple-murderer serving out a life sentence without parole. Frank has to find some way to get McCabe to agree to a bone marrow transfer. And then there’s the procedure itself (ably performed by Dr. Samantha Hawkins (Marcia Gay Harden)), which could be McCabe’s best hope for escape since he was incarcerated.
The story in Desperate Measures is a straightforward one. You can see the end of the film from the beginning. The ending is never in doubt. Just ask yourself, how many child-in-jeopardy thrillers actually end up with a dead kid?
McCabe’s scheme is outlined. We see what he’s planning to do, and then he does it (mostly) without flaw. Although there’s some interest in seeing how intricately plotted his plan is…it seems mechanical, and lacks a spark that might have made it totally enthralling.
On the dramatic side, there are plenty of conflicts where McCabe uses his medical uniqueness to his own advantage. Frank not only has to recapture McCabe, but he has to keep him alive…or his own son will die. This puts Frank uncomfortably at odds with his own police force, whose goal is to keep McCabe from escaping at any cost.
Realistically, Frank’s actions, carrying a tremendous cost of life and property, simply to save his son, would land him in a nice comfy cell (right next to McCabe, perhaps). Of course, the film never follows up the matter quite this far.
Andy Garcia is sympathetic as Frank, but beyond his mindless devotion to his son, there’s really very little to his character. He actually covered some of the same ground (the conflict between duty and family) with a much better performance in the neglected Night Falls on Manhattan. Between him and the villain, Keaton is certainly the one to watch. He not only gives the more vibrant performance, but has the better character of the two.
The action scenes in the film are fun to watch, even if, at times, they seem a bit unplausible. Even though the plotting of the film is straightforward, watching Keaton’s plan unfold is interesting, and there is suspense…mostly of the “how” variety, rather than “what”.
Though there definitely are flaws in the movie, it is entertaining. You might wish the film explored some of its core issues in more depth, but, unlike many thrillers, it does give you something to think about as you leave the theater.