Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones race through this breathless manhunt movie inspired by one classic TV series and which in turn inspired yet another. Ford is prison escapee Dr. Richard Kimble, a Chicago surgeon falsely convicted of killing his wife and determined to prove his innocence by leading his pursuers to the one-armed man who committed the crime. Jones (the 1993 Academy Award®, Golden Globe and Los Angeles Film Critics Award winner as Best Supporting Actor) is Sam Gerard, an unrelenting bloodhound of a U.S. Marshal. They are hunted and hunter. And as directed by Andrew Davis (Under Siege), their nonstop chase has one exhilarating speed: all-out.
The Fugitive 8.5
Dr. Richard Kimble: “They killed my wife.”
Samuel Gerard: “I don’t care.”
In the early ’90s, Harrison Ford could do no wrong. Having completed another extremely succesful installment in the Indiana Jones trilogy (let’s just agree that the fourth one doesn’t exist, okay? ), made Jack Ryan his own, offered us a touching drama in Regarding Henry’ and a taut thriller in ‘Presumed Innocent’, Ford was on top of the world.
‘The Fugitive’ provided him with one of his last great roles before everything came to a brusque halt with ‘Sabrina’ and a series of less inspired choices. Meanwhile, it provided with Tommy Lee Jones’ career with an élan he could never have imagined, suddenly being propelled to the top of Hollywood’s “must-have” lists and finding his name top-billed in blockbusters for years after.
I don’t know anything about the original ‘The Fugitive’ TV show. In fact, I didn’t even know of its existence before the movie came out – so I couldn’t say just how faithful this adaptation is to the source material. However, as a stand-alone film it works quite well. Actually, for my money, I could barely ask for a better action/thriller from Tinseltown; I thoroughly enjoy ‘The Fugitive’ every time I watch it.
One of the key elements in this film, for me, are the two main characters of Dr. Richard Kimble, a man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, and Samuel Gerard, the U.S. Marshall in charge of capturing him. The fact that both men are extremely intelligent and capable, that they are equally driven to reach their respective goals, and that they both have noble intentions, makes for quite an appealing cocktail.
I love that, at no point, do we doubt that Ford’s Kimble is a good man done wrong; this man is righteous and elicits deserved cheers throughout. Call me old-fashioned, but I really like a pure hero from time to time. We have so grown accustomed to the anti-hero that our heroes are frequently just a lighter shade of evil (and this coming from a HUGE fan of Dirty Harry, the ultimate anti-hero ).
Meanwhile, in contrast to Ford, we are treated to a delightfully smouldering performance from Tommy Lee Jones, who plays his Gerard with a ferocious intensity that suggests a controlled volcano on the edge of eruption. He has rarely been better. Jones infuses his character with a focus and sharpness that very few actors could have managed; no one was better-suited for this role. Gerard is driven by one thing, and one thing only: catching his man.
Jones is surrounded by an exceptional cast of minor players, off whom he riffs and banters with incessantly, firing off one-liners and incisive comments. Gerard’s personality is strengthened by these interactions, because it helps define him better than if he had been a lone man on a mission. By seeing him lead his team, we discover a man of utmost confidence who is extremely demanding, perhaps callously so, but who appreciates the skilled work around him.
The way that Jones is always one step behind Ford makes for riveting cinema; although Kimble is brilliant, we are always under the impression that he is at risk of getting caught before he can unravel the mystery surrounding his spouse’s death. With ‘The Fugitive’, we are witness to a battle of wits, with both men on the same side – but with incredibly different agendas.
The script tries to keep the proceedings as realistic as possible but, be that as it may, this is clearly an amped up version of what would happen in real life. The way everything is punched up for thrills, even if just a notch or two, is effortlessly ignored but quite apparent. I am pretty sure, for instance (knowing just how slow bureaucratic B.S. can be ), that a U.S. Marshall wouldn’t be able to boss everyone around the way he does and get such quick results. And the way that Ford and Jones cross paths from time to time stretches one’s suspension of disbelief.
Director Andrew Davis pulled a few great tricks out of his sleeve to keep his audience on edge, though:
-for starters, there are the obvious set pieces of the pulse-pounding train wreck and the jaw-dropping dam dive. The fact that these sequences were done before the omnipresence of CGI says it all: we believe it, because it IS real, and not some illusion – the only illusion being that the action actually took place as seen, and was not skillfully put together in the cutting room.
-secondly, Davis had his editor interweave material throughout the film, bit by bit, to tell us what actually happened on that fateful night, thereby providing us with context and eventually clueing Kimble in to facts about the case. The way Davis wove flashbacks into the film, especially at the beginning, drove the narrative and kept us aware of what was happening in our hero’s mind. It may not be a new technique, but it was used to great effect here.
‘The Fugitive’ must have been quite a demanding piece for cast and crew alike. With all the various locations and the physical requirements of the story, seeing as many of the characters are on the go all the time, it must have been taxing on everyone. I especially find it intriguing that Ford limped halfway through the film, and more so in some takes than others. I don’t know the story behind that one, but I suspect that he was hampered by an on-set injury during the shooting. That would hardly be surprising, all things considered.
While the ending could have been fresher, it didn’t overdo it with theatrics like some of these action-thrillers tend to do. I quite appreciated that: if I want something larger than life, I can watch a superhero or James Bond movie. ‘The Fugitive’ manages to give its audience a thrill-ride without making itself totally unbelievable. And that’s a big plus: it makes it easier for us to put ourselves in the place of our hero and it makes the story somewhat relatable.