by Adam Riske
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.
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.
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.
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.