Fugitive, The (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Despite his innocence, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) has been tried, convicted, and sentenced to die for the murder of his wife. On the bus ride that takes him to the prison where he will spend the rest of his days, Kimble is accompanied by three other prisoners. When they stage an attempted escape, the driver of the bus loses control and it plunges down an embankment. Kimble is free. Ninety minutes later, Federal Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) arrives on the scene to coordinate the search for the fugitive. So, while Kimble flees Gerard and his men, he begins his search for his wife's real killer - a mysterious one-armed man (Andreas Katsulas).

The Fugitive is loosely based on the 1960s television series that featured the late David Jansen in the title role. The film takes a lot of liberties with the original premise and characters, weaving a story that barely resembles the one which entertained TV audiences more than twenty years ago. Back then, Dr. Kimble was on the run for week after week, and there was more to each episode than the chase. Now, however, the flight lasts two hours, and catching the criminals is all that's on anyone's mind.

Oddly, even though The Fugitive is an admitted chase movie, the scenes before the hunt begins are among the best of the movie. Everything surrounding the murder and trial, all told in a tremendously well-edited fifteen minute prologue, is engrossing. We don't see much of the relationship between Richard and Helen Kimble, but what we're presented with gives us insight into the double tragedy faced by the doctor. Not only is his beloved wife dead, but he's the one convicted of killing her. Kimble's character, revealed through these scenes, is well in place by the time his sentence is read.

Following the opening scenes, we're treated to over a half-hour of nonstop action as Gerard and his men track down Kimble. Directed and photographed with a flair, this part of the movie keeps viewers on the edges of their seats. Most importantly, when on the run, Kimble acts like an intelligent human being. Equally as refreshing, the lawmen are his match, not a bunch of uniformed dunces being run around in circles. In fact, it could be argued that both Kimble and Gerard are too intelligent, not to mention too lucky. The plot is far from airtight, and there are a number of contrivances that come into play to bring about the resolution. How much you accept depends on how much license you're willing to give the film makers.

The movie's pace flags somewhat during the second hour as the pursuit cools down and Kimble's own search for the one armed man takes up screen time. Most of The Fugitive's problems center around this investigation. There are too many leaps of intuition and handily-placed clues. The murder mystery is not well-constructed; simplifying this aspect of the story might have resulted in a more tightly-constructed plot, and less confusion about the motivation of some of the characters.

With all apologies to Harrison Ford, who turns in a far more emotive performance than in Patriot Games, the real standout is Tommy Lee Jones. For an actor whose star has been on the rise for the past couple of years, this may be the movie that finally gets him into the upper echelon of today's performers. He invests his character with charisma and energy and, as Gerard's grudging respect for Kimble grows, so does our appreciation of what Jones is doing with his seemingly-straightforward role.

While no one could accuse The Fugitive of having a masterful insight into human nature, that's not why this film was produced. There's an odd moment or two when an element of someone's behavior strikes a responsive chord, but basically the characters are developed only enough to keep us interested as the chase proceeds. They, like the sometimes overplotted story, are subordinate to the hunt. Fans of the old TV series will find echoes of the show here, but most of this version is new. "Innovative" is not a legitimate description of The Fugitive, but "entertaining" is.

Fugitive, The (United States, 1993)

Director: Andrew Davis
Cast: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, Jeroen Krabbe, Andreas Katsulas
Screenplay: Jeb Stuart and David Twohy
Cinematography: Michael Chapman
Music: James Newton Howard
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 2:13
U.S. Release Date: 1993-08-06
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1