The Fugitive (1992) dir. Andrew Davis
Starring: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Jeroen Krabbe, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas
Though a solid and successful action thriller back in its day, seven Oscar nominations including a shot at Best Picture, seems almost unbelievable. Looking back over the last 30 years of Hollywood cinema we can only realistically list “Raider’s of the Lost Ark”, “Jaws” as unencumbered action pictures nominated for the big award.
There's no mistaking "The Fugitive" other than disposable as pure entertainment, with paper thin characters, and no conceivable emotional resonance whatsoever. “The Fugitive” is an action picture. Good on Oscar for choosing this film, shame on them for not using this as precedent to nominate say, “The Dark Knight” or one of the Bourne movies.
The film jumps right into the backstory establishing the murder of Helen Kimble (Sela Ward) and the trial and conviction of her husband Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) for the crime. Despite pleading innocent, claiming it was the work of a one-armed man, Kimble is put onto a truck for prison. When the truck is hit by a train, freeing the other inmates as well himself, Kimble decides to make a run for it thus turning him into a fugitive.
His foil is the cranky and confident U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), a true professional who tracks Kimble down with cold efficiency. Kimble’s no pushover though, he can do the running chases and throw punches with most people, but when it comes to logical brainpower and intellect he’s better than anyone. While evading Chicago’s finest Kimble starts assembling the evidence which will both exonerate him and exact revenge against the murderer of his wife.
Director Andrew Davis, an auteur by no means, directs the film efficiently with an invisible but pragmatic style. Davis uses the environment to his advantage choreographing his action around the Chicago freight tunnels, the El-train, and other popular Chicago landmarks. In hindsight, there’s very little traditional ‘action’ in the film, the electric hasty pace set by Davis’ editors create constant tension, constant movement, thus with the illusion of constant action.
Harrison is just fine as Kimble, not great. It’s an everyman role, a character he will come to exploit over the rest of his 90’s and post millennium career. Ford has his action game face on, but his character is only interesting because he’s Harrison Ford. Tommy Lee Jones, Oscar-winner for his role, is the star. We enjoy Gerard and Jones’ careful in-your-face self-assured style. His mocking of the affable local cops at the escape scene is well-played and his character comes to life shortly after when he confidently ceases reigns of the investigation. There’s no character development, backstory or personal flaws to surmount for Gerard, he’s just a cop doing his job, and Davis’ and Jones’ execution of this modus operandi is fascinating.
David Twohy and Jeb Stuart’s script is well plotted from the screenwriting handbook. The first half has Kimble in escape/reactive mode, operating on instinct. This can only sustain itself for so long, and so when Kimble turns the tables and becomes active and forward thinking in his escape plan, the film finds another gear. While there are many logical question marks (ie. could Kimble not afford a lawyer good enough to track down this evidence during his trial?) we forgive the writer’s dalliances because of the genuine truth in situation put onto the screen.
“The Fugitive” is not the best action/thriller ever made, and so I don’t know why the Academy voters happened to choose this film to receive Oscar acknowledgement, but it shows when the right film comes along, when done right we all love a good genre film. Enjoy.