For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, let’s take a look at the 1993 best picture nominee, The Fugitive.
We’re all familiar with the saying, “You just had to be there.” We usually hear it as an excuse that’s uttered when a storyteller realizes that his audience isn’t as fascinated by his tale as he is. It’s a way of assuring us that we would also be fascinated if only we had been present when the story actually took place.
I think the same holds true of a lot of movies. You simply had to be there when the film was originally released to theaters, before it’s impact could be diluted by repetition and imitation, to understand why that movie was successful or why certain critics continue to speak so fondly of it.
Case in point: The Fugitive.
Based on an old television series, The Fugitive was a huge hit when it was first released in 1993. It was critically acclaimed, it featured an Oscar-winning supporting performance from Tommy Lee Jones, and the film itself was even nominated for best picture of the year. The Fugitive is still regularly cited as being one of the best action movies ever made.
And yet, last month, when I watched The Fugitive for the first time, I was left distinctly underwhelmed.
The film opens with Chicago surgeon Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) arriving home and discovers that his wife has been murdered by a one-armed man (Andreas Katsulas). Kimble struggles with the assailant but the man still manages to escape into the night. The police don’t believe Kimble’s story and he ends up being arrested and subsequently convicted of his wife’s murder. It was at this point that I shouted out, “What about DNA!?” but then I remembered that this film was probably made before DNA became a regular part of the criminal justice system. You just had to be there…
While Kimble is being transported to death row, a fight breaks out that causes the prison bus to crash and gives Kimble a chance to escape. Kimble is now a fugitive, trying to track down the one-armed man and clear his name. Pursuing him is the charismatic and rather manic U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones).
Every review that I’ve ever read about The Fugitive always praises two scenes. One is the bus crash that gives Kimble his opportunity to escape. The other is the scene where Gerard first catches up to Kimble. Standing at the edge of a storm drain, Kimble says that he’s innocent. Gerard calmly replies, “I don’t care.” Kimble then proceeds to jump over the edge and into the raging waters below. Realistically, the fall really should have killed him but, if it had, there would be no movie.
Those two scenes are genuinely exciting and well-done. Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn’t quite as memorable. Kimble spends the rest of the movie running around Chicago while Gerard chases after him. It’s all shot well enough and Tommy Lee Jones is a lot of fun to watch (the film comes to life in the scenes where Gerard interacts with the other members of his team) but, at the same time, it all feels rather predictable. For all the scenes of Ford looking intense and running through the city, I was more excited about the chance to say, “Hey, isn’t that Julianne Moore!?” when she showed up as a sympathetic doctor.
Worst of all, the solution to the film’s mystery literally comes out of nowhere. However, that solution does feature a Big Evil Corporation which, if nothing else, qualifies The Fugitive for inclusion in the 44 Days of Paranoia.
Watching The Fugitive, I could see how the film had influenced other action films and I think that was a large reason why the film didn’t work for me. What was once undoubtedly seen as being thrilling and surprising now seemed rather mundane and predictable.
That’s why I imagine that, in the case of The Fugitive, you just had to be there.
Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia
- Executive Action
- Winter Kills
- Interview With The Assassin
- The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
- Beyond The Doors
- Three Days of the Condor
- They Saved Hitler’s Brain
- The Intruder
- Police, Adjective
- Burn After Reading
- Quiz Show
- Flying Blind
- God Told Me To
- Wag the Dog
- Scream and Scream Again
- Capricorn One
- Seven Days In May
- Broken City
- Pickup on South Street
- The Informer
- The Lives of Others
- The Departed
- A Face In The Crowd
- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
- The Purge
- The Stepford Wives
- A Dark Truth