Desperate Measures (Barbet Schroeder, 1998)
[originally posted 19Feb2001]
I’m never sure whether I’m going to like a Barbet Schroeder flick when I sit down to watch it. Half the time he pulls off amazing feats of grace under pressure (Reversal of Fortune, Our Lady of the Assassins), and the other half of the time he crafts enjoyable if mindless fluff that stands one viewing well, two viewings passably, and pales by the third (Single White Female, Kiss of Death). Five minutes into Desperate Measures, I was convinced it was the latter; a day after watching it, I’m still not convinced it’s the former, but I’m farther along the road than I was at that point.
Peter McCabe (Michael Keaton) is a highly intelligent psychopath, a less likable Hannibal Lecter, whose bone marrow happens to be a match for the dying son of Frank Conner (Andy Garcia). All Conner has to do is convince McCabe to be a donor to save his son, and keep McCabe from escaping somewhere between going out of his cell and going back into his cell. Needless to say, that doesn’t work, or it would be a very, very short film.
Much of the movie’s appeal rests solely on the head of Andy Garcia, one of the best actors in Hollywood right now, and one of the most underrated as well. He’s not as engaging here as he is in his best roles (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, Black Rain, Dead Again, etc.), but his acting ability is enough to make the film watchable. Keaton seems constricted by his role, but one gets the impression that has more to do with the director than the actor himself. A number of decent minor roles also show up in the film (Marcia Gay Harden is especially pleasing as the doctor slated to perform the operation, who gets caught up in the whole mess).
If plot’s more important to you than acting, however, don’t bother with this one. Each “twist” can be seen coming a mile off, and if the ending doesn’t make you want to seek Schroeder out and smack him personally, I’ll eat my review. Perhaps the most predictable thing I’ve seen in the past five years. Oh, well, you can’t have everything. ** ½