Starring: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, Julianne Moore, Joe “Joey Pants” Pantoliano
Directed by: Andrew Davis
Film length: 2hrs 10mins
Theatrical Release: 1993
Blu-ray release: 2006
It had been a long time since I previously watched The Fugitive. It was in heavy rotation for me back in the VHS days and I never did own another copy until Sarah and I picked it up on Blu-ray a few years ago. It stayed filed away in our collection, sealed and not played until this past Sunday. It was time to revisit to see if The Fugitive still holds up.
The film (4/5)
“Our fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”
Following an evening dinner party, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) arrives home to find his wife fatally wounded by a one-armed man. After a brief altercation the man escapes and Kimble returns to his wife who dies in his arms. The police find Kimble’s story of the one-armed man hard to believe since he is the only one to have seen him. When they begin finding circumstantial, but convincing, evidence that points to Kimble as the killer, he is arrested, found guilty of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Kimble later escapes a prison bus after it collides with a train during a freak accident. He is now free to track down this one-armed man and find justice for his dead wife; but he has to do so while staying one step ahead of Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), who will go to great lengths to get his man with ferocious determination.
The Fugitive is a great movie with a contrived premise. I’m not blind to the problems with the American Justice system, but it is a bit of a stretch to buy into how Kimble received a guilty verdict, let alone the death penalty. There are too many ways to interpret his wife’s statement on the 911 call (“Richard…. He’s trying to kill me”), which was the prosecution’s most damaging evidence. It was hard to believe Kimble’s lawyer wouldn’t be able to show reasonable doubt; but if you can roll with some of the Fugitive’s imperfections, you are in for a treat.
The film is a well-paced, character-driven action/thriller that Hitchcock, who himself used similar premises in films like The Wrong Man and North By Northwest, would have applauded all the way through. A good part of the story is about Kimble’s attempt to prove his innocence and find the one-armed man, but the cat and mouse game he is forced into playing with Gerard is really what makes it.
Within the early moments, there is an improvised scene with Ford and two real-life Chicago Police detectives. Kimble is explaining what happened to his wife (and we witness it during flashbacks) during an interrogation. It is to be the only time Ford presses the melodrama button, but it is enough to load up the audience with some solid empathy for the remainder of the film. You want him to win.
Then Gerard enters the story. A real leader who is surrounded by a solid team of US Marshals that he elevates to be great. He is smart, quick-witted, likable, and no-nonsense. He won’t be won over with a sob story. Kimble actually attempts to explain how he did not kill his wife when the two first meet. Gerard responds with, “I don’t care!” It is the moment when you realize that you might be caught up in Kimble’s plight but Gerard isn’t.
Kimble is on the run, but at the same time is putting together the plot behind why his wife was killed. While Gerard is attempting to anticipate where Kimble will be next, he ends up coming to the same conclusions as Kimble. The relationship between the two grows as Gerard goes from “not caring” to beginning to accept that Kimble might be innocent. All of this is delivered with a dose of fast-paced action that director Andrew Davis mixes in well.
What stood out to me/Memorable moments
Fantastic moments are grounded in reality by the characters
Both Ford and Jones play their roles even-keeled. They never get too excited when the action is ramped up or too low when the film takes a breather. This allows the film to bend and stretch around their centered characters and you end up buying into the more fantastical moments. Kimble survives a high fall from the top of a dam that should have killed him, but you are willing to accept it. By that point, not only are you rooting for Kimble to make it, but the insistence from level-headed Gerard to carry out a thorough search on the chance that he is still alive sells it too.
A real train crash
Like Backdraft, The Fugitive was made in the day when all special effects were practical ones. The filmmakers rammed a real train into a real bus to pull off the scene where Kimble escapes. Still good times!
Hey, look. It is Joan and John Cusack’s Dad
Just pointing it out.
Alright, so this copy is an early Blu-ray from 2006. It was not remastered in any way and it shows. The overall image is soft and washed out with prevalent film grain and noticeable video compression throughout. Not the best the format has to offer – by far.
Audio is okay but lacks the range of other Blu-rays.
Special Features (2/5)
The extras here are all from the 2001 DVD. There is a 22 minute short on the film in general with material from 2001 spliced in with behind the scenes crew interviews while on set in 1993. There is a 7-minute short on the train scene and a commentary with the director and Tommy Lee Jones. The commentary is fair with a lot of dead air. Andrew Davis does most of the talking and TLJ pipes in once in a while, but he definitely didn’t do much to earn his paycheck.
There is a 20th Anniversary edition that was released in 2013 with a DTS-HD audio track and more extra features. I’ll be on the hunt for that.
Tommy Lee Jones went on to win an Academy Award for his role of Gerard, and then played a similar variation of this character in numerous films, but that wasn’t the only part of The Fugitive that lived on. Its snappy dialogue, strong characters, and production values laid down the ground work for how to do a thriller right. So much so, I believe it is very likely that every thriller since 1993 owes it a bit of gratitude. If you have yet to watch The Fugitive you are going to… hunt it down… and… catch it soon… before it… escapes you… all together.