Thursday, February 5, 2015

Still Chasing The Fugitive

by Adam Riske
Warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, doghouse…

I don’t have deep thoughts about The Fugitive. I react to it more on a gut level. It’s awesome! It’s just a pure joy to watch. It’s the type of movie that I think about when I consider why I love movies. It’s entertaining. It’s exhilarating. It’s one of those movies where I have to drop everything and watch if it’s on television. It’s the best movie ever made that was adapted from a television show. It’s the best movie to ever be shot in Chicago. It’s like a shark, just this machine that barrels straight ahead (except when it flashes back, but you know what I mean). Every scene in this movie is great. I could watch this story (specifically with this cast) go on forever.

All of that gushing aside, it’s not a perfect movie. The Fugitive cuts corners. For example, after Harrison Ford jumps off of the dam (and miraculously lives), he is shown in the next scene on land in dry clothes. There is at least one case of an extra being recast in two separate roles and the director, Andrew Davis, (I guess) hopes that no one notices. Most importantly, the movie is chock full of close calls and coincidences where people behave in such a way that it fits the design of the movie and not necessarily the internal logic of professional lawmen and intelligent people in medicine. And yet, none of that matters to me. It’s a movie that supersedes its imperfections because it’s so suspenseful and energetic.
The Fugitive is by far the crown jewel in the career of director Andrew Davis, who also made the exceptional Under Siege (easily Steven Seagal’s best movie). It makes me sad that Davis never saw similar success following The Fugitive. The only movie of his post-Fugitive output that I can say I liked was Holes, and that could have been directed by anyone. But The Fugitive cemented that specific Andrew Davis style, lean action movies that feel unlike action movies other directors are making. They are full of bit players and extras (most locals of Chicago) that have interesting faces and great, thick Chicago accents. It lends the movie so much life and personality. The scores of mid-'90s Andrew Davis movies too are fantastic, elevating beautifully shot, paced and edited sequences into this excitement delirium that is just intoxicating.

The movie is perfectly cast with Harrison Ford in his middle-aged archetype role of the wary, intelligent everyman who is equally adept kicking his opponent’s ass as he is outsmarting them. He’s fantastic here in an engaged and interested performance, which has been a precious commodity with him in the past several years. And what can I say about Tommy Lee Jones in this movie that hasn’t already been said? It’s the quintessential Tommy Lee Jones part, a no-nonsense sunnuvabitch who you want on your side because he gets the job done. I’ve always appreciated one aspect of his performance in The Fugitive that I don’t ever hear anyone talking about and that’s his relationship with the young U.S. Marshal named Newman. It’s a great mentor-protégée dynamic that develops throughout this movie and even goes further in U.S. Marshals, the okay, but inferior, spin-off.
I want to wrap this column by having a little fun and diving into some random thoughts and observations I have about The Fugitive:

1. Julianne Moore is playing a character that is just insufferable. She’s a) a pain in the ass, b) a shitty doctor (she was just going to let that boy die in the hallway; it wasn’t until Ford intervened that the kid got to the surgery he desperately needed) and c) she’s a tattle tale.

2. After seeing this movie for the first time, I changed my dream job from “the dinosaur man” (this was the summer of Jurassic Park after all) to wanting to become a U.S. Marshal. I chickened out once I realized how dangerous that job would be and how little money I would be making.

3. As a boy, my regular doctor’s name was Dr. Nichols (just like the SPOILER bad guy in The Fugitive). I never really trusted him the same way after seeing this movie.

4. Joe Pantoliano being knocked out in the climax looks like one of the most painful things I’ve ever seen in my life. I also read his character was supposed to be killed off originally but he successfully lobbied to only be injured so he could appear in a potential sequel.
5. Another person who tried to avoid being killed off, amazingly, is Sela Ward, who asked the filmmakers to have her character only be in a coma instead of dying and thus setting off the chain of events of the movie. That Sela Ward has some cojones. But it’s all good. She’s a total fox, even today (have you seen her in Gone Girl)?

6. Ever since this movie was released, I’ve always wanted to interrupt a medical conference and yell into the audience, “HE SWITCHED THE SAMPLES!!!!”

As you can see, I love love love this movie. It’s just another example of what a special year 1993 was for not only big, important movies but also expertly crafted commercial entertainment.

16 comments:

  1. Nice write-up! I think Harrison Ford's beard deserved an Oscar nomination in addition to Tommy Lee Jones.

    What did you think of the sequel, ? It's lesser, but I think I've watched it more than The Fugitive, for reasons I can't explain.

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    1. Not to jump in ahead of Adam on this answer, but I think I've probably seen U.S. Marshals a lot more too. I remember watching it on VHS on like a weekly basis back in the late 90s/early 00's. Haven't seen it in years, but I imagine there is still nothing funnier on earth than that scene with the chicken suit.

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  2. rich house, poor house, halfway house, house for unwed mothers, catacombs, twilight zones....

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  3. Six Ford look-alike dummies took the plunge in the dam. Each one cost $12,000.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5RRjdhbxPk

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  4. Someday I will visit Chicago and I think Andrew Davis is about 85% of the reason why.

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  5. I remember reading at the time that Julianne Moore also became his new love interest but Davis ran behind during shooting so the filmmakers scaled back her part.

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  6. So I had to check see if your argument that this was the best movie filmed in Chicago was valid.

    Here are the contenders: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/June-2010/40-Best-Chicago-Movies-Ever/

    Off that list I would choose The Untouchables, North By Northwest, Home Alone, Road to Perdition, The Fugitive, The Blues Brothers, The Dark Knight, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as my favorites.

    I have an unabashed addiction to The Untouchables, but I would probably agree that The Fugitive is probably the movie that has the most "Chicago Feel" to it.

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  7. I can only agree. I own it on vhs, on dvd and I also own it most recently on bluray. Just like Independence day for me The Fugitive is just easily rewatchable, about once a year I need my fix

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  8. "The Fugitive" is awesome on its own, but if you pretend it's a science fiction movie in which Ford uses an invisibility shield to cloak himself from being discovered that constantly malfunctions at the worse possible times it's an even better movie. :-P Seriously though, there's not much to say other than I was surprised this wasn't picked for the ;93 Film Festival, especially by a movie blog written mostly by people from the Chicago area. Even if it would have annoyed people around the country and the world, why pass a chance to point out the local streets and tourist traps of your hometown?

    I've been in a criminal Grand Jury for the past couple of days (testifying though, not listening to testimony) so I didn't have to update my new to me 1993 movies for the past couple of days. So here are three of 'em in a row: DEMOLITION MAN, John Woo'd HART TARGET and Mike Leigh's NAKED.

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    1. What is this "Hart Target" you speak of?! Is that the one with Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner? :-P

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  9. This column inspired me to pick up The Fugitive, which I found on sale today at Target. It's probably my third favorite movie of 1993, after Groundhog Day and Jurassic Park. However, I haven't revisited it in a while, so this should be fun.

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    1. Tommy Lee Jones says this to your comment: "I Don't Care" But I do. That was a good purchase!

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  10. One of the best parts of my job? My office looks down Dearborn, the site of the parades in both The Fugitive and Ferris Bueller. But only The Fugitive has future Senator Roland Burris (at the time he was Attorney General of IL) in it's parade scene, long before the Baglo boondoggle when Burris was picked to succeed Senator Obama.

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    1. The way the comment started I thought your were going to tell us how you make $10,000 a month from home... but you are not a robot.

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