BookBin2010: Extreme Measures

I remember buying Michael Palmer’s book Extreme Measures during one of the first visits I ever made to my favorite used book store. It’s been nearly a decade since I started visiting this particular store, so that should give you an idea of how long this book has been waiting for me to do something other than dust it off every few months, flip through it, and make that stupid “Wow, this has been on my bookshelf for a really long time…I should probably read it at some point” grunt that I make about way too many books.

I’m not even sure why I bought this book. I’ve never read Palmer before and, while I have seen the movie, I didn’t really remember liking it enough to want to read the book (I didn’t remember hating it either, so perhaps that was what inspired me to buy the book? I don’t really know…). Whatever the reason, I finally cracked open my copy…and spent the entire time thinking to myself, “Did I actually see this movie? Or was I imagining things?”

I was so confused by the time I finished this book that I didn’t want to write about it until I had the chance to re-watch the movie (which is why it’s taken me more than a month since I finished the book to write this post). Thankfully, what I discovered is that I did, indeed, see this movie…and it’s not really my fault that I didn’t recognize all that much between the two stories. The movie is only tangentially linked to the book, if that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the title is the only thing that both can honestly claim to share. Otherwise, these are two completely different stories built upon the diaphanous shards of a vaguely similar premise.

This isn’t necessarily a negative thing. True, I walk a thin line of tolerance/disdain when it comes to Hollywood mucking about with a book’s storyline. I admittedly prefer to see books represented onscreen in the most true-to-the-source-material ways possible. However, I’m all right with deviations if creative license is wielded well.

Do I think this is the case with Extreme Measures? No, not really. Of course, I don’t really think all that much about either story. Regardless of which version you choose, it’s a rather inevitable medical mystery thriller composed mostly of predictable plot points and paint-by-number villainy. My main complaint, I suppose, is that the movie version is guilty of a “White-washing” of Palmer’s characters.

In the book, the protagonist is Dr. Eric Najarian, a successful, well-respected Armenian doctor working at a Boston hospital. A possible foil of his is a Haitian doctor. In the movie, Gene Hackman plays the foil to Hugh Grant and Hugh Grant’s Floppy HairTM. Two White actors hired to play characters loosely based on two ethnic characters whose respective ethnicities were important to their personalities and/or actions.

This seems like a huge missed opportunity to have hired actors of proper ethnicities for these roles. Then again, the screenplay was so utterly different from the original book that the ethnic flavor was completely gone at that point…so it didn’t really matter. Neither does the movie. Or the book, really.

As you can tell, Extreme Measures left an overwhelming “meh” taste in my mouth. If you’ve seen the movie and liked it, I’d say give the book a go. You’re in for quite a different experience. However, if your opinion of the movie is similarly unenthusiastic, don’t bother with the book. I’d hate to spread the meh…it’s a rather unpalatable flavor.

Final Verdict: Though it’s been almost a decade since I liberated this book from the used book store, I do believe it’s time to finally return it to its previous home. Time for someone else to dust it…