Fugitive, The (1993)
Release Date: August 6th, 1993 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Andrew Davis Actors: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, Julianne Moore, Joe Pantoliano, Jeroen Krabbe, Andreas Katsulas
espected vascular surgeon Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) comes home after a late night of emergency operating, having been whisked away from his wife at an earlier charity function. He’s seconds too late to save Helen (Sela Ward) from being brutally murdered by a one-armed assailant, though he momentarily engages in a struggle before the killer flees and the police show up. Unfortunately – and due to what might now be considered circumstantial evidence – his wife is able to place a 911 call right before she dies, muttering his name.
With no evidence of another man being in the house at all, and with a sizeable insurance policy for Helen, in which Richard is the sole beneficiary, Dr. Kimble is eventually tried and convicted of murder. He’s then scheduled to be transferred to the Illinois Department of Corrections to await execution. During the bus ride to the penitentiary, a fellow prisoner attacks a guard, resulting in an out-of-control, rolling vehicle that lands in the path of a speeding train.
Kimble narrowly escapes the ordeal in an action-packed, stunt-filled moment rife with explosions, destruction, and suspense (impressively utilizing no miniatures). This unusual level of high-intensity adventure is particularly amusing in a screenplay designed more like a legal thriller or murder mystery than a mindless actioner. This exhilarating set piece energetically supplements the cleverer sleuthing aspects, as Kimble sets about clearing his name – at least, until the breathtaking climax, in which a heated physical fight becomes the go-to thematic solution.
Meanwhile, U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, in an Academy Award-winning performance) is called in to take over the investigation and locate the fugitive. He’s quick with wit, overflowing with strategically timed nuances, and impressively exudes a macho, take-no-prisoners attitude. He’s aided by a distinguished supporting cast of character actors, including Joe Pantoliano and Daniel Roebuck, while quite a few other notables make an appearance, such as Jeroen Krabbe and Julianne Moore; Jane Lynch even snags a bit part.
It’s quite helpful that Kimble’s a doctor – his first task is to clean, disinfect, and bandage a wound sustained in the accident. He then proceeds to change his facial appearance, hair color, and clothing, and even steal the identity of a janitor so he can infiltrate Cook County Hospital to locate records on patients with prosthetic limbs. Kimble realizes that the deputy hot on his trail is only interested in capturing a target, not whether or not an innocent man was wrongfully accused. Richard’s steps to catching the elusive, one-armed man give the audience a relatable viewpoint of solving the mystery right alongside the lead. Suspicion and anticipation build dramatically and sincerely, avoiding the typical, gimmicky infusion of thrills (until the rather contrived conclusion).
The fugitive and his pursuer are both given plenty of attention by the script, which is careful to develop characters that are intelligent, insightful, and, most of all, entertaining. They are personas the audience can care about. Through humorous dialogue, verbal idiosyncrasies, and first-rate acting, these constantly dueling minds make up for the inconsistencies in the plot – such as the cryptic explanation as to why Kimble is set up and how the criminals knew there would be no trace evidence discovered. Despite a few storytelling missteps, the addition of an unsettling but perfectly complimenting score by James Newton Howard, painstakingly choreographed stunts, nerve-wracking false alarms, Kimble and Gerard nearly bumping into each other on several occasions, extremely narrow escapes, and precarious cat-and-mouse chases mark “The Fugitive” as a top-notch thriller deserving of its Best Picture Academy Award nomination.
– Mike Massie