In 1993, Andrew Davis directed the best Alfred Hitchcock film that was not directed by Alfred Hitchcock. “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford being pursued by Tommy Lee Jones was a runaway smash. As we now live in an age of cell phones and the World Wide Web, you’d think this film might be somewhat dated but it is the last thing on your mind while watching. This is a tense, taut thriller that never, ever lets up. Another favorite picture of mine.
The opening credits serve as a prologue, showing Dr. Richard Kimble struggle with a one armed man in his home after his wife (Sela Ward) has been assaulted and killed. Kimble becomes the accused and eventual guilty party who is sentenced to death.
Davis is now ready to show his first of many wonderful set pieces. As Kimble’s prison bus careens off the road landing on railroad tracks, an oncoming train collides with the bus. Kimble and another prison inmate now have the opportunity to escape and go on the run. Enter Tommy Lee Jones as Deputy Sam Gerard and his team of smart, intuitive misfits to catch up to Kimble who has made a mad dash into the dense Illinois woods. Because Kimble and Gerard are depicted to be incredibly smart, Kimble only remains a few steps ahead throughout the picture. Later in the film, Kimble makes his way back to Chicago to search for the one armed man and uncover exactly why his wife was murdered.
Location shots are masterfully done in “The Fugitive.” From the woods, to a sewer system (a manufactured set I believe), to the streets of Chicago and Cook
The train crash is one of the all time best moments in film. No miniatures. No CGI. This is a fully loaded train crashing into a bus, and this is where you can not deny the craftsmanship of great filmmaking. Cameras were positioned at multiple angles to capture the mayhem.
The other great set piece occurs during the actual St Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago. Gerard once again gets Kimble in his sights and Kimble manages to blend in with the parade marchers. The quick editing of improvisational camera work is spectacular here. Kimble and Gerard are literally in the same frame and yet Gerard can’t see what’s under his nose. Moments like these can’t be storyboarded. Andrew Davis’ production could not stop the actual parade for another take. It all had to be done on a now or never basis.
I watch “The Fugitive” and I always think back to Alfred Hitchcock’s best work like “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “North By Northwest.” An innocent man is unexpectedly swept up in a conspiracy where he becomes the target and his adrenaline and instincts must kick in to save himself. There’s also an unusually creepy antagonist, The One Armed Man. This makes the film incredibly foreboding.
Harrison Ford is great at never glamorizing his role. He doesn’t suddenly become Rambo. He becomes a man of convincing desperation. Ford shines in roles like these such as his other films like “Witness,” “Air Force One,” and “Frantic.”
Tommy Lee Jones gives one of my most favorite performances on film. He plays Gerard with non stop adrenaline. He has masterful chemistry with his team, including Joe Pantoliano. As well, Gerard is only interested in fetching what has escaped. He has no interest in guilt or innocence, until he realizes that Kimble has no interest in the consequences of escape. Kimble is interested in his innocence. Even, Gerard becomes attuned to Kimble’s drive. Here is where the script is wise. There is no dialogue to imply what Gerard is thinking. Tommy Lee Jones has a way of giving a great close up to show what he’s thinking.
Davis pulls out all the stops with this film. There’s magnificent action shots of Gerard’s helicopter quickly flying over the ambulance that Kimble is racing away in. A great cat and mouse maze sequence happens within a sewer system. Lighting is perfect, there. Nothing is overly dark. There’s also incredible overhead shots of the dam and ravine that Kimble makes for a getaway with an absolutely surprising dive from an enormous height.
“The Fugitive” is smart and action packed to the teeth. You are in full focus while watching the ongoing pursuit. This film was nominated for Best Picture. Rare for an action film, but also a testament to its greatness. Tommy Lee Jones deservedly won the Oscar for Supporting Actor.
No doubt for me that “The Fugitive” is a must see film for any kind of moviegoer. There are moments to feel scared, to laugh, and to cheer. When it is finally over and the story arrives at its satisfying conclusion, you can not help but let out a deep breath. Your time has been well spent investing in the “The Fugitive.” An absolutely fascinating picture.