44 Days of Paranoia #42: The Manchurian Candidate (dir by Jonathan Demme)


For our next entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate.  (You can read my review of the original by clicking on this sentence.)

During the first Gulf War, when a platoon of soldiers is attacked by Iraqi forces, their lives are saved by Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schrieber).  Raymond receives the congressional medal of honor and is eventually elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  In many ways, Shaw is continuing the family business.  Not only was his father a Senator but so is his powerful and calculating mother (Meryl Streep).  As the film opens, Raymond Shaw has just been nominated for the vice presidency.  A strife-torn America looks to Shaw to save the country.  After all, he’s a war hero.

Or is he?

Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington), who was a member of Shaw’s platoon, has spent the last few years having nightmares in which he and the other members of the platoon — including Shaw — were captured, brainwashed, and had implants inserted into their bodies.  When Marco discovers that the other members of his platoon have been having the exact same nightmare, he starts to investigate on his own.

When I first started watching this version of The Manchurian Candidate, my initial response was to go, “Bleh!  Remake!”  There’s a reason why most film bloggers automatically despise any and all remakes.  Usually, they add little to the original version and they rarely improve over what was previously there.  Even worse, remakes often times seem to be directed by some of the worst hacks in Hollywood.  What’s more insulting — to have your movie remade or to have it remade by Brett Ratner?

However, Jonathan Demme is not your typical Hollywood hack and that became quickly obvious as I watched his remake of The Manchurian Candidate.  Both Demme’s direction and the screenplay by Daniel Pine and Dean Georgaris show a lot of respect for the original while also providing a few surprises of their own.  Demme creates a convincing portrait of a society that has been consumed by secrecy and is now running the risk of collapsing under the weight of conspiracy.

Unfortunately, the remake doesn’t quite capture the satiric bite of the original.  One of the things that made the original Manchurian Candidate so memorable was the fact that both sides of the ideological divide were ultimately portrayed as being empty, shallow, and ultimately destructive.  The ultimate message was that neither the left nor the right should be trusted.  The remake is a lot more specific about who the villains are and what they believe in and, as a result, its attempts at social and political commentary are a lot more predictable.  The original Manchurian Candidate could both entertain you and make you think.  The remake is very entertaining but never quite thought-provoking.

While it can’t hope to improve on the original, the remake of The Manchurian Candidate is a well-made and compelling action film that features a trio of great performances from Denzel Washington, Liev Schrieber, and especially Meryl Streep.  As her performance here shows, Meryl really should be playing more villains because her performance here is not only impressive but also fun to watch.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive
  37. The Day of Jackal
  38. Z
  39. The Fury
  40. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  41. Shattered Glass

44 Days of Paranoia #41: Shattered Glass (dir by Billy Ray)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at one of the best films of the first decade of the 21st Century, 2003’s Shattered Glass.

Shattered Glass tells the true story of Stephen Glass (played, in a surprisingly brilliant way, by Hayden Christensen), a smart and charming journalist who, through a combination of showmanship and carefully calculated moments of vulnerability, has established himself as one of the top reporters at one of the top political magazines in America, The New Republic.  As the film begins, we find Glass at his old high school, giving advice to a classroom of adoring student journalists.  As the self-assured Glass talks about his career, we see scenes of him investigating, pitching, and writing his stores at the New Republic.  It’s here that we see the other side of Glass — not only is he a good writer but he’s a good salesman.  While the rest of his coworkers struggle to pitch dry-sounding stories about Congress, Glass puts on a show as he vividly describes articles about everything from offering his services as a boxing expert to witnessing drug-fueled hijinks at a Young Republican meeting.

However, as the film progresses, we see yet another side to Stephen Glass.  Not only is he a talented writer and an enthusiastic showman but he’s also a pathological liar.  When the head of the Young Republicans challenges Stephen’s article, New Republican editor Mike Kelly (Hank Azaria) investigates and, despite being initially suspicious, is eventually won over by Stephen’s apparent earnestness.

Later, after Kelly has left the magazine and been replaced by new editor Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), Stephen turns in an article entitled “Hacker Heaven.”  In the article, Stephen writes about witnessing a 12 year-old computer hacker being given a million dollar contract from a company known as Jukt Micronics.  The only problem is that a reporter at Forbes (Steve Zahn) checks the facts in Stephen’s articles and can find no evidence of a company called Jukt Micronics ever existing.

As Lane starts to look into Stephen’s reporting, it starts to become obvious to him that Stephen not only made up the events of “Hacker Heaven” but that he may have falsified several other stories as well.  Already struggling to fill the shoes of the popular Kelly, Lane now finds himself having to investigate one of his most popular reporters.

Shattered Glass is one of those fascinating and unusually intelligent films that I always make a point of watching whenever it shows up on cable.  Not only does it tell a genuinely interesting story but it also features excellent performances from Sarsgaard, Azaria, Chloe Sevigny, and especially Melanie Lynesky.

Even more importantly, it features a revelatory lead performance from Hayden Christensen.  Fairly or not, Christensen is always going to be associated with Star Wars.  In Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Christensen didn’t seem like he was a very good actor but then again, did anyone comes out of those films looking better than before they went in?  As bad as Christensen may have been in those two films, he’s absolutely brilliant in Shattered Glass.  He plays Stephen Glass with a puppy dog eagerness to please that is deceptively charming and likable.  It’s only as the film progresses that the audience realizes that there’s nothing behind that affable facade.  Instead, it becomes apparent that he’s a sociopath who lies to hide the fact that his existence is ultimately an empty one.  It’s an amazing performance and one that will make you think twice before blindly accepting the analysis of any of the journalistic “experts” who are regularly trotted out on any of the news shows.

Shattered Glass is also a film that should be seen just so viewers can appreciate the brilliant way that Peter Sarsgaard delivers the line, “This doesn’t seem like a real business card to me.”

Shattered Glass needs to be seen.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive
  37. The Day of Jackal
  38. Z
  39. The Fury
  40. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

 

44 Days of Paranoia #40: The Manchurian Candidate (dir by John Frankenheimer)


With only five entries left in the 44 Days of Paranoia, now seems like the perfect time to look at one of the best conspiracy films ever made.  First released in 1962, this film is not only one of the most influential thrillers ever made but it’s also a fiercely sardonic political satire that remains just as relevant today as when it was first released.  It was also remade in 2004 and, while we’ll get to the remake, today we’re focusing on the original.

I’m speaking, of course, of the John Frankenheimer-directed classic, The Manchurian Candidate.

The Manchurian Candidate tells the story of Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey).  The son of the wealthy and ambitious Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) and the stepson of the moronic Senator Johnny Iselin (James Gregory), Raymond is also a decorated war hero who has been credited with saving an entire platoon during the Korean War.  When asked about Shaw, all of the members of the platoon respond with: “”Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”

Of course, that’s not true.  It only takes a few minutes of screen time for the audience to realize that Raymond Shaw is none of those things.  Instead, he’s a rather depressed loner who is full of resentment towards his mother and his stepfather.  Shaw is so socially awkward that even he is shocked when he manages to successfully tell a joke.  (“I just told a joke, didn’t I?” Shaw says in amazement.)

While Shaw pursues a career as a journalist, the fellow members of his platoon — including Maj. Marco (Frank Sinatra) — start to have disturbing nightmares, in which they find themselves observing a genteel garden show, during which Raymond is ordered to strangle one soldier and shoot another one in the head.  Marco comes to suspect that the platoon may have been captured and brainwashed with communists.  With the backing of Army Intelligence, Marco starts to investigate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Iselin has come to national prominence by claiming to have information about a communist conspiracy deep within the U.S. government.  As becomes obvious in some of the film’s best scenes, Iselin is less concerned with fighting communists and more focused on keeping Raymond’s mother happy.  Eleanor has decided that her husband is going to be the next President and her brainwashed son is going to help make it happen.

I think sometimes we tend to assume that, up until 1967, all movies were safe and predictable.  The Manchurian Candidate, however, proves that is simply not true.  In fact, with its cynical view of politics and its cast of fragile and damaged characters, The Manchurian Candidate is one of the most subversive films ever made.  Rejecting the boring partisanship that typifies most politically themed films, The Manchurian Candidate presents us with a world where both the left and the right are equally corrupt and ultimately equally meaningless.  It’s a political satire that transcends ideology and that’s certainly something of which America could use more.

It’s also an amazingly entertaining film.  George Axelrod’s screenplay is full of wonderfully snarky moments while John Frankenheimer’s directs with an appreciation for both absurdity and melodrama.  Angela Lansbury is both hilarious and chilling as one of the worst maternal figures to ever appear in the movies and she more than deserved the Oscar nomination that she received for this film.  However, the entire film is brilliantly acted.  Laurence Harvey is both sympathetic and off-putting as Raymond while Frank Sinatra (who previously appeared in another entry of the 44 Days of Paranoia, Suddenly) brings a wonderful blue-collar humanity to the role of Marco.  Janet Leigh has a small role as Marco’s lover and the scene where they first meet on a train and have a charmingly nonsensical conversation is wonderfully odd and romantic.  Finally, James Gregory gives a hilarious performance as the type of stupid but bombastic politician who will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched C-Span.

If you’ve never seen the original Manchurian Candidate, drop everything you’re doing and go watch it now.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive
  37. The Day of Jackal
  38. Z
  39. The Fury

44 Days of Paranoia #39: The Fury (dir by Brian DePalma)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, let’s take a look at one of the silliest films ever made, Brian DePalma’s 1978 horror/thriller hybrid The Fury.

The Fury opens on a beach in Israel.  CIA veteran Peter (Kirk Douglas, who grimaces up a storm) is hanging out with his teenage son Robin (Andrew Stevens) and his friend and colleague Ben Childress (John Cassavetes).  Two things quickly become apparent.

First off, Robin has psychic powers.  We know this because Peter is obsessed with protecting him from being captured by a shadowy government agency that wants to use his power as a weapon.

And secondly, Ben is evil.  We know that Ben’s evil because he’s played by John Cassavetes.  As one of the first truly independent filmmakers, Cassavetes would often raise the money to make his fiercely individualistic films by playing villains in bad B-movies, like this one.

Ben, in fact, is so evil that he’s arranged for terrorists to attack the beach.  After Peter is apparently killed in a ludicrously violent gunfight, Ben takes off with Robin.

However, Peter is not dead!  Somehow, despite the fact that both the beach and the ocean were pretty much blown up with him on it, Peter survived and now, he’s looking for his son.  Peter makes his way to Chicago where he calls up his girlfriend, Hester (Carrie Snodgress), and says things like, “I want your body, baby.”

Hester, meanwhile, works at the Paragon Clinic, which is run by Dr. James McKeever (Charles Durning) who, himself, is secretly working for Ben.  The Paragon Clinic is a front to try to discover other teenage psychics and to turn them into weapons as well.  The newest patient is Gillian (Amy Irving), a teenage girl who might be able to help Peter track down his son.

Of course, what Peter doesn’t take into account is that, in his absence, Robin has turned into a power-mad sociopath who spends his time doing things like killing tourists at amusing parks…

Wow, that’s a lot of plot, isn’t it?  And, with all of that, I haven’t even gotten into what happens during the second half of the film!

The Fury is an enjoyably silly film, an awkward attempt to combine DePalma’s previous film, Carrie, with a paranoia-fueled political thriller.  There’s a certain charm to a film that takes itself so seriously and yet, at the same time, manages to be totally over-the-top and ludicrous.

For example, just consider the performances of the high-powered cast and the fact that none of the actors appear to be acting in the same film.  Playing a character who is a bit of a hero by default (because, seriously, how stupid did he have to be to not realize that Ben was evil to begin with), Kirk Douglas grimaces so manfully that Peter’s stupidity almost starts to feel like a satiric comment on hyper-masculinity.  John Cassavetes, on the other hand, is so disdainful of the film that he actually rolls his eyes while delivering some of his more melodramatic lines.  Meanwhile, Carrie Snodgress is forced to say things like, “Here comes the Pony Express!” and Charles Durning brings the full weight of his talent to deliver lines like, “If you’re having your monthlies, I don’t want you near the patient.”

And finally, there’s Amy Irving.  In DePalma’s Carrie, Irving played Sue Snell, the sole survivor of a psychic rampage.  In The Fury, Irving gets to play the psychic and she gives such a dramatic and emotional performance that you almost get the idea that she was trying to challenge Sissy Spacek.  “This is how you play a psychic, Sissy!” she seems to be shouting.  Of course, the big difference is that Carrie was actually a good film whereas The Fury is a bad film that happens to be watchable.

Finally, no review of The Fury is complete without talking about Brian DePalma’s direction.  To put it lightly, Brian DePalma directs the Hell out of The Fury and the effect is something like what an episode of Agents of SHIELD would look like if directed by Martin Scorsese.  The entire film is a collection of tracking shots, zoom lenses, and sweeping overhead shots with the camera only stopping long enough to linger over scenes of violence and spilled blood.  In perhaps the film’s most ludicrous scene, Amy Irving runs away from the clinic in slow motion while the orchestral score plays out on the soundtrack.  We get close-ups of Irving’s face and close-ups of the faces of her pursuers.  One character gets shot multiple times but we don’t hear the gunshots.  Instead, we only hear the music and watch as the character overacts and dies in slow motion.  It’s almost as if DePalma was trying to win a bet by achieving the most counter-productive use of slow motion in film history.

Ultimately, The Fury is so thoroughly silly and over-the-top that it simply has to be seen.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive
  37. The Day of Jackal
  38. Z

44 Days of Paranoia #38: Z (dir by Costa-Gavras)


(SPOILERS!)

For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at the 1969 political thriller, Z.

Though Z is based on events that actually happened in Greece and features a  soundtrack of Greek music that manages to be both haunting and lively at the same time, the film itself takes place in an unnamed, European country.  While the country is officially a democracy, it’s actually controlled by a cabal of politicians and military leaders who use fear and intimidation to maintain power.

As the film opens, The Deputy (played by the charismatic Yves Montand) and his aides arrive in a small city.  That night, the Deputy is scheduled to speak a rally for nuclear disarmament.  As we’re shown from the start of the film, the outspoken Deputy is considered to be a threat by both his country’s government and the United States as well.  Despite having received word that an attempt is going to be made on his life, the Deputy speaks at the rally.  After the rally, as the Deputy walks across the street, a truck comes out of nowhere.  A man in the back of the truck strikes the deputy with a club, killing him.  The official story is that the Deputy was simply hit and killed by a drunk driver but the Deputy’s followers know otherwise.

Realizing that the Deputy has the potential to be an even more powerful symbol in death than he was when he was alive, the government assigns the Magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignat) to investigate the Deputy’s death.  Since the Magistrate is known to have political ambitions of his own, it’s assumed that he’ll simply rubber stamp the government’s story.  However, the Magistrate surprises everyone by turning out to be a man of integrity.  Working with a journalist (Jacques Perrin), his investigation uncovers a conspiracy and leads to the indictment of several high level military officials.  In a scene that will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a movie, the Deputy’s wife (Irene Pappas) is told that the men responsible for her husband’s murder will be held responsible…

And this is where you would normally expect the film to end.

However, Z goes on for another few minutes and it’s those final minutes that elevate this film from just being a well-made thriller to being one of the most effective political films ever made.  The film’s narrator informs us that the government was subsequently overthrown by the military.  The indictments were dismissed.  The Magistrate was reassigned to other duties.  The “drunk drivers” who were officially held responsible for the Deputy’s death were given light sentences.  As for the Deputy’s loyal aides, some were forced into exile while another was killed while running from police.  Finally, we’re told:

“Concurrently, the military banned long hair on males; mini-skirts; Sophocles; Tolstoy; Euripedes; smashing glasses after drinking toasts; labor strikes; Aristophanes; Ionesco; Sartre; Albee; Pinter; freedom of the press; sociology; Beckett; Dostoyevsky; modern music; popular music; the new mathematics; and the letter “Z”, which in ancient Greek means “He is alive!”

As the film ends, a long list of everything and everyone that has been banned rolls up the screen.  It’s a devastating scene, one that firmly establishes that the greatest enemy of dictatorship (as well as the first victim) is freedom of thought.

However, even before that ending, Z had already established itself as a powerful film.  I usually dread watching politically themed films because, for the most part, I find them to be drearily heavy-handed.  Well, make no doubt about it,  Z is a very political film and it’s also a very heavy-handed film.  However, it’s so well-acted and well-directed that I hardly minded the fact that the film was essentially trying to indoctrinate me.  It’s rare that you find a polemical film that also works as entertainment but Z is one of those rare films.

Z made history in 1970 when it was the first film to be nominated by the Academy for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture of the Year.  Watching it today, it’s easy to understand why Z was so honored.  It remains an exciting thriller, a powerful political statement, and a bold call to action.

Z, incidentally, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.  However, best picture was won by Midnight Cowboy.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive
  37. The Day of Jackal

44 Days of Paranoia #37: The Day of the Jackal (dir by Fred Zinnemann)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at the 1973 British thriller, The Day of the Jackal.

For our previous entry, I reviewed The Fugitive, a film that is often described as a classic but which, in my opinion, has failed to survive the test of time.  Therefore, it’s appropriate that this entry is the exact opposite: a film that lives up to its reputation.

Taking place in the early 1960s, The Day of the Jackal tells the story of a nameless assassin (played by Edward Fox) who is hired by a group of terrorists to assassinate French President Charles De Gualle.  Accepting the job, the assassin tells his employers to call him “The Jackal.”

We follow the Jackal as he prepares for the assassination.  He meets with a gunsmith (Cyril Cusack) and has a special rifle designed.  A forger gets him some fake ID papers but makes the mistake of trying to blackmail him.  After disposing of the forger, the Jackal makes his way to Paris.  Determined to protect his identity, the Jackal seduces both men and women so that he’ll be able to avoid having to check into a hotel.  Whenever it appears that someone might be a security risk, the Jackal calmly kills them.  It’s all strictly business.

However, the French do know that the Jackal is in Paris and that he’s planning to kill the President.  In a plot twist that continues to be significant today, one of the terrorists has been captures and, after being brutally tortured, has revealed the plot.  Inspector Lebel (Michael Lonsdale) is tasked with tracking down the Jackal and preventing the assassination.

When I talk about how much I love old movies, I’m talking about films like The Day of the Jackal, an unpretentious movie that achieve success not through flashy visual effects or overwhelmingly loud action scenes but instead by simply being a well-made film.  For the most part, director Fred Zinnemann takes a low-key, almost documentary approach to the film’s material.  Zinnemann establishes a pace that is deliberate but never boring.

The film also features two excellent lead performances.  With his coldly aristocratic features, Edward Fox is perfectly cast as the nameless assassin.  You not only believe that he could kill someone but you also believe that he could get away with it.  He’s a thoroughly believable killer and it’s hard not to be impressed by just how good he is at being the bad guy.  The Jackal’s sleek professionalism and charisma is contrasted with the gray and rather shabby middle-aged men who are trying to stop him.  As played by Michael Lonsdale, Inspector Lebel is initially a rather underwhelming figure but, as the film progresses, his own strength is gradually revealed until he becomes a worthy adversary of the Jackal.

Finally, I should mention that the film ends with a little coda that is pure perfection.  I’m not going to ruin it by revealing it here but it’s worth watching the entire film just for that final line.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive

44 Days of Paranoia #36: The Fugitive (dir by Andrew Davis)


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 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth