Sunday, August 27, 2023

90's Watch: The Fugitive (1993)

Watched:  08/19/2023
Format:  Max
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Andrew Davis

It's hard to convey to The Kids exactly how popular The Fugitive (1993) was upon its release.  I didn't see it for a week or so because it was sold out, but I did finally catch it in the theater, I think with my parents just before I headed off for college.  It went on to get Oscar nominations for Best Picture and other things, but snagged Tommy Lee Jones a Best Supporting actor, cementing Jones in a persona he'd take straight to No Country For Old Men.  

But in the intervening years, I'd argue it's not been forgotten by the original audience, but it's also not a movie I hear people talk about, rewatch as part of any canon, or pass down to The Kids as a pretty good movie.  It had its time as a popular renter and cable staple, but like a lot of movies aimed at a teens-and-up audience of the day, it's just sort of faded as adults don't imprint on movies and make them part of their world-view in the same way as a kid seeing a Star War.  It wasn't part of the character-driven indie movement which would catch fire at this same time, nor was it part of the FX extravaganzas that started appearing in the wake of Jurassic Park, released a few months earlier.  

But, also, even at the time, I thought the movie was just... strange.  These days I have my head wrapped a bit more around how movies work, and I stand with the choices made for this movie.  It's logical and lends a sense of realism to the movie - but, also, the filmmakers decided that our hero would have no friends and no one to talk to for most of the runtime of the film.  So, that weird feeling I had about the movie was really centered on the oddly-loose-fitting fiction-suit that was Richard Kimble.  

There is certainly a character who is Dr. Richard Kimble, but he exists entirely within the realm of the film's core problem of being a guy who is framed for his wife's murder and who must clear his name AND bring down those who were responsible.  He does not have associates or a sidekick.  He does not make connections in dumb movie ways by hearing someone else drop an unrelated piece of information for a cute moment where it triggers a thought.  Instead, he silently puts pieces together until the back 1/3rd where he actually talks to a couple of people.  But overall - our lead is out there doing things and it's up to the audience to draw conclusions a step behind him him.

I suspect that this absence of connection with others leads to a lack of connection with Kimble and maybe a deep emotional attachment to the film.

The 90's was an era where we littered movies with bold, original-type characters and loud stock-types, and so having your lead mostly look at his shoes for two hours and mumble lines here and there doesn't really stick with you.  But it also means Tommy Lee Jones, who is one of those bold, original characters surrounded by loud stock-types, gets all the best bits.  And an Oscar.  Had Harrison Ford not been Harrison Ford and been absolutely magnetic while looking at his shoes, I can't imagine this movie starring someone else and working at all.  

Oh, this movie also has early appearances from Jane Lynch in a dramatic-scientist role and Julianne Moore as a spunky doctor.  It's kind of weird seeing either relegated to supporting roles, as both are clearly who they are - ie: people I would watch for a whole film.

The film has a couple of huge set pieces in the first third and then slows the hell down.  But that train wreck is baller, as is the tunnel-jump sequence.  It's so good I'll ignore that Richard Kimble should have been dead to severely injured.  This is a movie, and water is magical in movies.  But another odd thing about the film is that it has nothing else quite like that again, and it's not like you couldn't have stunning physical feats in Chicago.  I mean, look at Adventures in Babysitting.  Or Dark Knight.  But it does suddenly feel way more grounded in the Windy City as it pulls threads together.  We have good sequences - the City Hall bit and the train fight come to mind, but where's Kimble paragliding off the Hancock Building?

This is also the rare film that acknowledges that people pretty much don't recognize or make the connections between faces on the news or on posters and the people they're tuning out on the street.  As much as people make fun of Clark Kent's glasses, if you're not Lois and up on top of Superman AND Clark, I buy it.  And Kimble wandering freely around Chicago feels way more real than movies where cops immediately recognize our hero.

I also like how the murder sequence is simple, straightforward and cut into the film as PTSD-driven flashback.  It's a nice noirish use of flashback, but also conveys exactly what we need to know.  Sadly, this is all we see of Sela Ward, who is foxy.  But we also don't have a movie if she's A-OK.

For me, a million questions surround how this movie was made, and maybe there's a BluRay extra or three that would fill in the blanks.  But this movie is a stand-out in director Andrew Davis' filmography, which has prior highlights including Steven Seagal movies?  Which were fine, but.  Maybe not Oscar bait.  According to the internets, it was also being written and re-written as they showed up for each scene, with tons of input from Ford.  

Anyway - I like this film quite a bit.  In some ways, it shares a lot of DNA with noir, but it's a reminder of what a bit of brainpower, actors given leeway, and a charismatic lead or two can do.  The end is a bit perfunctory, but necessary for the era.  I don't hate it, it's just not leap-from-the-dam cool.  But maybe Ford showing up at a professional conference and freaking out the squares IS that cool?  YMMV.

The concept is ripe for an actual season-long mini-series remake.  Or maybe longer?  You tell me.  And go ahead and fan-cast.

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