The Birthday Series – The Fugitive (1993)
Unfortunately I used up my “Movies based on TV shows” conversation starter when I reviewed ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’, but I’ll briefly reiterate that there aren’t that many films that are based on television series that are good, let alone great. For every Mission: Impossible, The Addams Family and Miami Vice, there are numerous duds like Charlies Angels, Bewitched and The Avengers. But I can’t think of any that are as good as ‘The Fugitive’. I haven’t seen the original series, which lasted four seasons, but the story lends itself to an episodic format. Much like the great series ‘Quantum Leap’, it told an overall story that also enabled it to have each episode as a smaller, self-contained one. The film expertly cuts the fat and leaves only an excellent, involving and exciting mystery.
Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is a successful surgeon living in Chicago with his beautiful wife Helen (Sela Ward). He comes home one night to find a one armed man (Andreas Katsulas) in his house, and his wife laying dying on the floor. The one armed man escapes and through some shoddy police work, Kimble is charged, tried and convicted for murder. On a prison transport bus, his fellow inmates stage a daring escape. With Kimble on the run, US Marshal Deputy Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) takes charge of the case and is quickly on his tail. Kimble finds his way back to Chicago, and begins his search for the One Armed Man.
‘The Fugitive’ is simply brilliant. The story is a simple one, and we’ve seen similar stories many times before. But it’s filmmaking that is firing on all cylinders. The screenplay by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy is teeming with wonderful dialogue, exciting twists and turns and involving characters.
Harrison Ford is terrific as Kimble. His scenes early on show his love for his wife, and the numbing shock of her murder. When he escapes he is driven by his need to uncover the truth, and to find the One Armed Man and bring him to justice. He gives the character his trademark noble, dogged perseverance and he does it very well. But as good as Ford is, Tommy Lee Jones is as Deputy Gerard is better. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role, and deservedly so. Jones brings wit, brains and charisma to the film, sharing the film with Ford, instead of merely being the stock standard “cop” character. Jones first appears after the brilliantly staged escape scene, where the prison bus overturns onto railroad tracks and Kimble, in leg irons, must shuffle his way to safety with a freight train bearing down on him. To say that he pulled off the near impossible and made himself noticed after such a great scene is an understatement. It helps that he had some wonderful dialogue to deliver, but he delivers it perfectly and makes it just as memorable.
“Listen up ladies and gentlemen! Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground is four miles an hour, that gives us a radius of six miles. What I want out of each and every one of you is a hard target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area! Check points go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitives names is Doctor Richard Kimble. Go get him!”
The strength of ‘The Fugitive’ comes down to the characters and the story. The story is wonderfully told, and aside from Kimble, the main characters are Gerard and his team. They are beautifully written. The US Marshals, particularly Joe Pantoliano as Cosmo and Tom Wood as Noah, all have that lived in feel. Like they all have history, they’ve known each other for years and have that rapport that comes along with it. They also provide some much needed levity right when it’s needed, as the film threatens to take itself a little too seriously. There is almost as much time dedicated to the US Marshals as there is to Kimble, and because they are interesting characters, we get involved not only with Kimble, but in their pursuit too.
I reviewed ‘Chain Reaction’ a few days ago, which was also directed by Andrew Davis. In described that film, I stated that it felt like a poor mans ‘The Fugitive’. None of the characters are very interesting, the story seems to plod along, and we never get involved. It even features a repeat of the scene where Neil Flynn, as a cop, points his gun at the hero and ends up getting shot by the bad guy. After rewatching this film, I might have been too lenient on that one. They really aren’t in the same league. Davis perfectly paces this film. There is never any scene that goes on too long, and it simply rattles along. The train crash scene is brilliant, and he also makes sure that we know who the good guy is at all times.
Because Jones is so good as Gerard, there was potentially a danger to downplay Kimble, making him almost a secondary character. It could easily have happened, but Davis is sure to balance the film just ever so slightly in Kimbles favour, and takes time to show his true nature, as when he’s looking for hospital records and Kimble slyly helps save the life of a young boy. We saw how this films sequel, ‘US Marshals’, got the balance wrong, making Gerard the main character. Further evidence at just how much this film got it right.
‘The Fugitive’ ranks right up there with my all time favourites. It’s a brilliantly executed, involving mystery, full of terrific characters and some excellent action. This is a film I occasionally run across on TV, and no matter what point it’s up to, I always end up watching the rest.
My 1993 birthday is over. Time to leave now. Take a hike.
For Droids a jolly good fellow!