Retro Film Review: The Fugitive (1993)
In 1990s remaking of old television shows into feature films was often viewed as just another symptom of serious creative crisis within Hollywood. Too many times such Hollywood projects produced disappointing results. It happened usually because all those remakes tried to compensate their authors' lack of creativity with the simplistic formulas and appeal to nostalgia. Problem for 1990s Hollywood was also in the changing demographics of the audience - people most likely to feel nostalgia to certain TV shows were, unlike teenagers, unlikely to go to theatres. Successful film adaptations of old TV shows, on the other hand, owed their success to something else - stories and characters whose appeal could transcend gaps between generations. Good example for that was The Fugitive, 1993 action thriller directed by Andrew Davis.
The film was based on popular 1960s TV show, itself allegedly inspired by the real life case of Dr. Sam Sheppard. The plot begins in Chicago where Dr. Richard Kimble (played by Harrison Ford), comes home one night and witnesses his wife Helen (played by Sela Ward) being murdered by mysterious one-armed man. Police, prosecutors and jury aren't particularly impressed by his story so Kimble is found guilty and sentenced to death for the crime he didn't commit. In the prison bus, on route to Death Row, fate intervenes in the form of other prisoners' escape attempt followed by train collision. Kimble uses mayhem and escapes. Later, instead of going towards border he returns to Chicago where he would try to find evidence clearing his name. But the odds are against him, especially when the team of US Marshalls led by Samuel Gerard (played by Tommy Lee Jones) begins pursuing him. Gerard is top professional in his field and his pursuit is relentless, even when Gerard himself begins doubting Kimble's guilt.
1960s TV series had 120 episodes. After a while all those episodes – in which Kimble helped some decent ordinary people while managing to escape Gerard at the last minute - began to resemble each other, which later led many to use The Fugitive as the synonym for repetitiveness in American television. The film is only two hours long, so the plot is compressed. However, Jeb Stuart and David Twohy in their script kept the essence of the story and characters. In their script they also gave this story new potential - potential for Hitchockian thriller.
This potential was recognised by Andrew Davis, director specialised for the films set in Chicago. Shot almost entirely at the Chicago locations, The Fugitive is both spectacular and down-to earth. Davis is real master when it comes to action scenes and many of those later became classic, especially the spectacular collision at the beginning of the film. But all that was meaningless without strong characters audience could sympathise with. The Fugitive features not only strong protagonist whose cause viewers identify with, but also a strong antagonist whose determination and professionalism viewers would admire. This is mostly due to excellent "Oscar"- awarded performance by Tommy Lee Jones. He easily overshadowed everyone in the cast, including Harrison Ford who, despite all his efforts, looks somewhat bland in comparison. Two of them fortunately don't meet very often, although one of the encounters results in one of the most memorable scenes ever seen in 1990s Hollywood films.
The Fugitive is very good, but not perfect film. Thanks to Davis' excellent direction and very good acting, audience has little time to notice implausibilities and cliches in the script. The story that explains why Kimble had to go through such ordeal isn't very convincing and the identity of chief villain will be easily guessed even by less experienced viewers. Final confrontation is also too melodramatic and at odds with the realism of previous scenes. Yet, despite all those flaws, The Fugitive is not only a rare examples of remake done right, but also a genre classic of its own.
RATING: 7/10 (+++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on May 6th 2004)
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Movie URL: https://www.themoviedb.org/movie/5503-the-fugitive