By Marc S. Sanders

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 County Hospital.

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 in one take.

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. The only thing he’s armed with is his mind. There’s also an unusually creepy antagonist, The One-Armed Man. This makes the film incredibly foreboding. I know the film stems from the legendary television series, but Davis treats this villain as if he’s among the ranks of Hitchcock’s use of Martin Landau or James Mason.

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 exquisite 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. He trusts the audience will presume what’s driving his intuition.

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 cannot help but let out a deep breath. You feel like you’ve run a hundred miles, or at least as long as Richard Kimble ran towards his innocence. Your time will be well spent investing in the The Fugitive. An absolutely fascinating picture of great, mounting suspense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s