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On August 6, 1993, Warner Bros. unveiled the 127-minute Harrison Ford thriller The Fugitive. The film went on to earn seven Oscar nominations at the 66th Academy Awards, including best picture. And it won in the best supporting actor category for Tommy Lee Jones’ performance. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
Call something a “real train wreck” and it’s considered a put-down. Not in this fast-track, no-stops chase movie with a massive train-wreck scene that’s going to have audiences scrambling for cover.
With a perfectly cast Harrison Ford reprising David Jansen’s 1970s TV role as physician-on-the-run Richard Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones giving the performance of his life as Sam Gerard, the tenacious U.S. marshal in pursuit, The Fugitive should reward Warner Bros. with a fast and furious $100 million.
For those too young to remember Quinn Martin’s hit TV series, Kimble has been convicted of killing his wife based on a lethal chain of circumstantial evidence. He claims a “one-armed man” committed the crime. In this update, Kimble is a Chicago surgeon whose dazzling, loving wife (Sela Ward) has been hacked to death by a mysterious one-armed man. He’s railroaded through court and convicted but escapes on the way to the Death House when the prison bus overturns.
In essence, movie buffs will recognize the “pursued pursuer” genre; namely, Kimble must find that one-armed man before the law, in this case Gerard, catches up with him. Screenwriters Jeb Stuart and David Twohy have crafted a terrific, lean and learned scenario, retooling the best components of such classic chase films as Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps into a bristling and brainy screenplay.
With virtually no story fat and a propulsive mix of action, suspense and humor, The Fugitive is cinematic storytelling at its best. The only reservations one has is that the ultimate antagonist’s actions are not wholly credible. Still, it’s a quibble that does not detract from the movie experience.
His directorial hand full-throttle, director Andrew Davis has forged a riveting, high-stakes thriller. With black-and-white smashbacks to the actual crime intercut within the relentless chase sequences, Davis’ visual thrust is all the while propelled by the obsessive, desperate energies of the two main characters, the hunted and the hunter.
With his ruggedly resilient demeanor and wily instincts, Ford taps all the deep-down fears and furies of his character, including Kimble’s compulsion to help people even if it means his own neck. His Kimble is brave, decent and, most fun of all, fast on his feet. With his icy sass chilled to the right temperature, Jones is a formidable antagonist. He’s a bloodhound of the highest pedigree, sharing, not surprisingly, many of the same tenacious strengths and weaknesses of his prey. Supporting characters, similarly, are terrific, most prominently Andreas Katsulas as the one-armed man.
The technical contributions are terrific. Michael Chapman’s sharp-sheen lensing and ice-blue hues convey Kimble’s desperate, hard plight while composer James Newton Howard’s propulsive score makes one feel Kimble’s pounding heart. The overall sound — cell doors slamming shut, ambulance sirens — makes one as edgy as a Fugitive. — Duane Byrge, originally published Aug. 2, 1993.
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