20 Years Ago
I saw The Fugitive with a bunch of friends for my twelfth birthday in September of 1993. This is a pivotal time in one’s movie-going life. By age twelve you’re tired of kiddie movies. You’re ready for the big time. No more cartoons and after-school special nonsense; you want something adult. No, not that kind of adult, but something with action, adventure, suspense, cussing, and revenge. Something to propel you into manhood and to talk about at school like a boss.
The movie had already been out for a month and taken in some $133 million during a streak of first place finishes at the box office. And it’s no mystery why: The Fugitive had it all – except boobs. Had it had boobs, I may never have needed to see another movie again. I sat in the theater with my friends and Junior Mints and took in every perfect detail. Harrison Ford was going to convince those bastards he was innocent, and by any means possible. I knew even then that Ford didn’t screw around. No one throws a full-body punch like Ford. He was resourceful, no-nonsense, the ultimate underdog. The Fugitive seemed challenging at age twelve. Your mind isn’t soiled by all of the repetitive plots at that age, and everything seems so new and exciting. I had never seen a film like this before, and I know I declared it “the greatest film ever made!” in the lobby arcade after the adrenaline rush of seeing a PG-13 rated (!!!) action film. Manhood was near.
20 Years Later
Wow, does this movie hold up. Seriously, The Fugitive is one of the most fluid and effective action/suspense films I’ve ever seen. There are few plot devices as dependable as the wrongly-convicted man (just ask Hitchcock; it’s a plot point in many of his films) and The Fugitive is sterling in its execution. The screenplay seamlessly keeps Ford’s Richard Kimble a step ahead of Tommy Lee Jones’s Sam Gerard, all the while developing Gerard as a fully-realized character by having him gradually realize Kimble’s innocence. It’s rare to care about every character in a movie, but The Fugitive pulls it off. Plus, Gerard is just a badass mofo:
Director Andrew Davis was just coming off the immense success of 1992’s Under Siege. It’s easy for people in 2013 to dismiss it since Steven Seagal is old, fat, and weird now, but it’s one of the best action films of the 90’s. The Fugitive is his masterpiece, however. Just think about how many classic scenes there are in this movie: the train-bus crash and escape, the stairwell chase, the St. Patty’s Day Parade sequence, “I didn’t kill my wife!” “I don’t care!”, the showdown with the one-armed man in the subway. These are masterfully executed set pieces, and Davis’ knack for squeezing every ounce of suspense out of every scene is paramount to the film’s success. Just witness this awesomeness:
There’s always been a bittersweet element to the film’s final scene. Gerard and Kimble are in a police car. Gerard knows he’s innocent, takes off his cuffs, and the two almost seem like they could be friends. You can tell Gerard is happy to finally get his man, but also seems sad that the chase is over. The camera pans out to the car driving off, and you can’t help but wonder what the future holds for them. Do they communicate once Kimble is officially a free man? No, this is not a request for a retread sequel.
In many ways The Fugitive represents the pinnacle of a genre not much in style any more: the suspense/action picture. How often do we get a movie this well-made, with such well-drawn characters within an involving story? The true suspense film is on the outs, being replaced by easy, cheap scares and dumbed-down stories. It wasn’t that long ago that The Fugitive appealed to all audiences, something studios only dream of doing. It wasn’t dumb, it didn’t treat you like a moron, and it kept the thrills coming. These words will be true twenty years from now, and I’d be willing to bet there’s a twelve-year-old out there now experiencing this movie for the first time. And feeling like a man doing it.
Footnote: The remains of the train-bus crash filming, which was done for real (no miniatures) at a cost of $1 million, are still on display along the Great Smoky Mountains Railway in North Carolina. It has become a tourist attraction of sorts through the years. Check out this video for a full rundown.