Monday, July 05, 2010

50 for 50, The Movies: #47, "The Fugitive"

As I work my way through this list, the things that I look for in a “favorite movie” will probably become apparent, if not obvious. What you won’t find on the list is a compendium of what conventional wisdom considers “the greatest films in the history of cinema.” For example, you won’t be reading about “Citizen Kane,”, even though I like it a lot and recognize it as a cinematic landmark.

One way to describe these movies is that these are the ones, even though I own them on DVD, will still watch through the end when they show up on cable.

Another way to put it might be “intelligent entertainment.” When I go to the movies, I want to be entertained (or perhaps even learn something), but I don’t want to feel like I’ve been taken advantage of. I want the talent that went into the movie to show up on the screen. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, and I also think when you approach movies like that, you are open to a hell of a lot of good stuff. Movies as different as – to name three that I really like, but didn’t quite make the cut for this list – “Shaun of the Dead,” “Heat,” and “Casablanca.”

“The Fugitive” is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. It’s not an original idea, certainly – based on the famous TV show of the 1960s. But it is flawlessly executed, populated with interesting characters, and filled with moments of tension throughout. If you knew anything about the TV series, you knew how this movie was going to end before you even walked into the theater. So the trick was to make the journey fresh and interesting. And man, did the filmmakers succeed.

The movie starts off with a bang, to the point where you’re almost afraid to take a breath. The terrific first few minutes tell the story of the injustice suffered by Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is told, followed by the amazing train/bus crash which results in his escape. U.S. Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, in his Oscar winning performance) is soon on the scene, leading to a moment of almost unbearable tension when the two face off for the first time.

And then, the movie shifts gears, and slows down as Kimble tries to solve the mystery of his wife’s murder, and Gerard follows closely behind, along the way beginning to doubt Kimble’s guilt. This is my favorite part of the movie – it shows the intelligence and resourcefulness of both men, even though they couldn’t be any more different. This section culminates with a phone call from Kimble to Gerard, which shows up at the very beginning of this video. It’s probably my favorite scene of the whole movie.

Tommy Lee Jones richly deserved his Oscar, but it’s silly to think that “The Fugitive” would have been as successful without Harrison Ford (a premise I think was proven with the “U.S. Marshals” sequel). The supporting cast is also outstanding, from Joe Pantoliano (who is good in everything he’s ever been in), Tom Wood and Daniel Roebuck as Gerard’s colleagues, Jeroen Krabbe and Andreas Katsulas as the bad guys, and even Julianne Moore in a brief role as an emergency room doctor who gets to witness Kimble’s fundamental goodness “up close and personal.”

“The Fugitive,” directed by Andrew Davis and starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones – a great example of intelligent entertainment, and #47 on my list.

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