Harrison Ford in The Fugitive (1993) is a train wreck…literally!
This film received massive amounts of praise in 1993, made over 300 million at the box office, and used a memorable train crash stunt that is about as impressive as it gets. I really like the entertainment value of this movie. It is really good. This is not your typical thriller, but it is comparable to Taken (2008), in that the main character is motivated to do something to save his own life, or someone else’s, in the case of Taken. I wouldn’t call it an action thriller or a legal thriller, because there’s some action and some legal stuff, but both things are kept to a minimum. There is a conspiracy though, but it’s not contrived, and fits well with the overall story. I really don’t think there’s much to complain about with this film.
This movie opened in August 1993, a perfect time to capture some viewer interest. The Fugitive had free rein throughout the entire month of August, because the only legitimate competitors were smaller flicks, like The Man Without a Face, the one with Mel Gibson. That’s it. Everything else was mediocre to poor. Maybe this helped with positive reviews, who knows. Maybe some critics saw Jason Goes to Hell at the end of August 1993 and then thought The Fugitive was solid gold by comparison. The film won numerous awards and stands out as one of the best balanced thrillers I’ve ever seen.
I say it is a balanced thriller because everything just works pretty well in the amount the movie dishes it out to us. All the action set pieces work and are paced just fine. The characters are not bad, and best of all, the police investigators are not one-dimensional characters. Nobody makes the US Marshalls look silly in this movie, least of all Richard Kimble, played by Harrison Ford. Each of the characters has their own personality and seems to bring a presence to the screen, like no other group of police characters I’ve seen. It’s like watching a good episode of “Law & Order” with the banter and wit between the cops, before the courtroom drama kicks in, except the courtroom scenes in this one don’t stall the movie, which is a pleasant treat.
Richard Kimble is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit in about 10 minutes time. They show the crime. And a flashback. The editing is phenomenal at the beginning of this movie, and I could tell the movie wanted to get to the “fugitive” part of The Fugitive, as soon as possible. That’s good, because it does move fast. And all the legal jargon, all the crap, all the extraneous details we don’t need to know, are kept to a minimum.
After he’s convicted, they set up the first stunt, and usher in the US Marshalls to lead this movie to a success. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the train wreck stunt is a great scene. Okay, so it’s not something out of Avatar or Star Wars, but looks very real and works dramatically. This scene cost 1 million dollars in total to accomplish and it looks like they spent their money wisely. Harrison Ford was later superimposed into the picture and I’ll be darned if I can tell.
Roger Ebert gave this movie high marks in a 1993 review, on par with every other critic comment I’ve read. The situation Richard Kimble is in is unique, as far as I know. Sure, there are man-on-the-run films made all the time, but none with the nightmarish flavor of this one. It is sort of surreal how Richard clings to his freedom so tightly and Harrison Ford plays it about as well as possible, I think.
Andrew Davis’ “The Fugitive” is one of the best entertainments of the year, a tense, taut and expert thriller that becomes something more than that, an allegory about an innocent man in a world prepared to crush him.
–Roger Ebert, 1993
This wouldn’t be one of my usual movie reviews without a comment on allegories. This movie has an overall arc about a corrupt pharmaceutical company that is out to get Richard Kimble, in order to sell more drugs, which may be a comment on the state of business. The world is prepared to step on Richard Kimble without much of a second thought at all. His second chance is only possible because Richard refuses to let the system stamp him out and call it a day. This may be a comment on the legal system, but the movie inspires us not to give up on Richard, if not on good causes in general.
Tommy Lee Jones competes with Harrison Ford for best performance. There’s no doubt he’s charismatic in this film and he won an Oscar for this role. Maybe it’s a little hammy in spots with the overaggressive one-liners, but I still think it works. By the end of the movie, you’re rooting for both Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford, which is strange, because they are dead set against each other at the beginning. Out of all the police characters, it is Tommy Lee Jones that shows us the most depth, because he grows toward the end of the film and becomes as much of a detective of the conspiracy, as Harrison Ford himself. I really like how they portrayed the police in this movie, especially Tommy Lee Jones’ character, and they probably rewarded him for his performance by giving him US Marshalls in 1998. It is well deserved.
Here is the low-res review of this film by Siskel & Ebert:
There’s no heavy-handed exposition in use in this movie. The conspiracy is not laid out for us by a supervillain and no one dialogues endlessly to tell us just what is behind all this mess. I like the smart flavor of the tone. It doesn’t treat the audience with stupidity and there’s not one hammy joke about the police, about crime, or anything else. It is serious. It treats its subject seriously, despite it being based on an old television series.
I only have one complaint about this movie. Because it uses such broad strokes to move the plot, it becomes a little generic. The police are good guys, act somewhat typical of aggressive movie cops, and there’s no time to really delve into the psyche of any of the characters, whether through dialogue or interaction. The action is situation based and the chase is the main focal point, which I think is a fine way of doing it, but there have been plenty of movies made where there’s way more action and way more dialogue. The Fugitive knows how to balance both of those to deliver what is a typical summer thriller, in my opinion. I guess that last point is not really a criticism, but it does show my opinion.
All in all, this movie is entertaining and exciting. I like the pace. The movie doesn’t get weighed down by any of the elements it draws on, like police procedures, legal stuff, or even action. The action it does have is impressive, especially at the beginning of the film. This is one of my favorite Harrison Ford movies and it’s a good time.