November 9, 2011

The Fugitive

The Fugitive (1993) is the Casablanca of action thrillers. It could have been an unremarkable studio product, just another recycled genre script with an A-list star plugged into the lead. Instead, some kind of wonderful chemistry took place and the result is a rightfully celebrated classic. A crackling adventure with a terrific cast.

Harrison Ford is thoracic surgeon Richard Kimble, wrongfully convicted of killing his wife. Harrison Ford is our best physical actor- he struggles, runs, climbs, and punches more realistically than anyone. He punches the bad guy like a real person would. When Kimble has nearly drowned in an icy river after a daring free-jump over a waterfall, his exhausted slog onto the riverbank is totally believeable. I also love that Ford grew an actual beard and actually shaved it off while on the run. Bravo to real facial hair!

Tommy Lee Jones saves what could have been a boring U.S. Marshal character and won an Oscar. I am certain that his part on paper is pretty flat. Lots of actors could have been hired who would bring nothing to the table. Jones' Deputy Gerard is determined, rude, colorful, and fair. The close-knit working relationship between Gerard and his team felt lived-in and real. I love it when characters share inside jokes which aren't explained to us. The eccentric costuming of his posse is a little distracting, but maybe that's partially the antiquated 1990s at work?

To further bolster my premise: Harrison Ford made The Fugitive between his two Jack Ryan movies, Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger. I am sure those movies made tons of money, but no one cares about them the way people remember The Fugitive. There's no reason on paper why The Fugitive should be any better than either of them, but I dare you to find someone who'd rank Patriot Games or Clear & Present Danger higher?

The Fugitive was directed by Andrew Davis. Davis was nominated for a Golden Globe and a DGA award for Best Director. At Oscar time, The Fugitive was nominated for Best Picture, Sound, Score, Editing, Effects, and Cinematography, but Davis was passed over for a Best Director nom (he would have lost to Steven Spielberg [Schindler's List] anyway).

Davis makes competent action thrillers: before The Fugitive, he'd directed six features, including The Package (with Gene Hackman) and Under Siege (aka Die Hard on a Battleship, with Steven Seagal). Since The Fugitive, he's directed six unremarkable features.

Yes, we all wore chambray shirts in the 1990s. And yes, that is Jane Lynch!
Besides the memorable "train crashes into a bus" which kicks off the chase, the movie is chock-a-block with additional action sequences. The effects are above average throughout- the train crash still looks good. The exception which proves the rule: there's one shot in the sequence where Kimble is driving an ambulance towards the dam, while being pursued by Gerard in a helicopter. It's an establishing shot with the road in the foreground, a tunnel opening in the middle distance, and the dam, with water flowing over it, in the background. It's clearly a composite shot of some kind, but the waterfall is super-grainy (that's typical) but the waterfall is also A STILL PHOTO! How could this happen? My guess is that Davis discovered he needed this shot in the editing room, long after location photography was complete? Maybe one of his assistant directors shot the required footage, but it was faulty? Thankfully the shot is brief, but thanks to home video, we can linger over it and shake our heads.

I found an unsealed DVD copy at a tag sale for $1 last month. You can pick up The Fugitive at Amazon.com:
Watch it again tonight. You won't regret it. My grade: A-plus

He only had one word of dialog in this movie, but yelling "Kimble!"
at Harrison Ford is pretty awesome, even if
you are immediately shot and killed.

Moore is 32 years old in this photo, but looks 22!
WATCH FOR: Brief appearances by Julianne Moore, Jane Lynch, John Cusack's father Dick Cusack (as Kimble's attorney), Neil Flynn (the janitor on Scrubs) and NBC News anchor Lester Holt!

MORE Harrison Ford movies on STUB HUBBY: