The Fugitive (1993) ***1/2
Directed by Andrew Davis
When I conclude that a film is “overrated” I can usually understand why people enjoyed the film so much, even if I didn’t share their high praise. Of course, there are exceptions—Tootsie comes to mind right away. After watching The Fugitive for the first time, I do think the film is very overrated. That being said, I can definitely see why some people really embraced this film. For me, the film hit an artistic peak somewhere around the hour and fifteen minute mark, and then continued with typical, clichéd and marginally unimpressive scenes leading up to the climax.
Harrison Ford is one of the great everyman actors. No one can command the screen while talking so little. He’s got this amazing mix of masculinity and vulnerability. In The Fugitive, he also has to play a character that is extremely smart and quick thinking. He pulls this off very well! This is a typically wonderful Harrison Ford performance. It goes right on the list next to Blade Runner and Indiana Jones.
The revelation in the film is Tommy Lee Jones. I’m not exactly sure how old Jones was when playing the role, but he looked like he was a very healthy 40. His character was so confident and tough and yet extremely likeable. That’s not an easy task considering that for most of the film, he is the primary bad guy. If I didn’t know that he won an Oscar for the role, I might not have appreciated his performance as much as I did. This is not the typical movie and this is not the typical role which wins actors Oscars. Yet, Jones was absolutely deserving of the accolades. Without a doubt, this is the best performance I’ve seen in a modern action thriller. No other performance in this genre I can think of is even in the same league.
The scenes where Richard Kimble first has to escape to gain any sort of control are brilliant. The stand out scene of course is the one in the sewers that ends at the aqueduct. This scene has become iconic and understandably so. If people love The Fugitive because of this scene alone, I can understand that love. There are many other great scenes throughout. My favorite involves a boy that Kimble saves but risks and ultimately loses his cover doing so. These scenes are written so brilliantly and they really do feel plausible, which is saying something!
The film starts to become familiar when we move past the one armed man and get a surprise bad guy. Well, I guess it’s supposed to be a surprise, but I could tell from the acting early on that this person isn’t on the up and up. This bad guy is revealed after a complicated plot is explained involving characters we have only seen briefly in one opening sequence. The plot involves heart medicine, tissue samples, drug companies and ultimately results in the murder of Kimble’s wife. I had a real problem when the fight between Kimble and this bad guy results in the bad guy usually getting the punches and attacks in first. The character is so dopey and weak and Kimble is so resourceful, smart and strong that I didn’t believe for a second that Kimble shouldn’t be able to wipe the floor with this guy.
The final scene between Jones and Ford is great mostly because all of the unnecessary elements of the film have been stripped away. When the film rests on Jones and Ford’s shoulders, the result is exhilarating. When other shoulders enter the picture, we drift too closely into very familiar territory.