Warner Bros. // 1993 // 131 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // November 7th, 1999
A murdered wife. A one-armed man. An obsessed detective. The chase begins.
Once this movie gets wound up, there's no stopping this cinematic dynamo as it careens from thrill to chill with a cheering audience following two heroes in their determined search for the truth.
It is the mark of an excellent work of drama, whether on paper or on the screen, when each time you experience it you find yourself caught up in the drama, your gut wrenching each time the tension ratchets up a notch, even while your conscious mind knows every little bit of the story. More so than when it was released, The Fugitive taps directly into our fears of being trapped by an ominous conspiracy that threatens our very freedom, except that here the Bad Guys wear corporate suits rather than the governmental badges in The X-Files or Sneakers. I have seen The Fugitive any number of times, and I still get that little tug in the gut during the squirmingly close escapes of Dr. Kimble from the long arm of the law.
Another neat trick of this movie, which plays a large role in its standing up to many repeat viewings, is that it allows us to sympathize with and cheer for both the wrongly convicted Dr. Kimble but also the man who is sworn to return him to his death row cell. It would have been so very easy to make Kimble the sainted hero and Gerard the black-hatted lawman (shades of Les Misérables), a course of action that was wisely avoided here.
When we hit play, we fade out to...
The somber title music and the inter-cuts between the Chicago skyline and the shocking murder of Helen Kimble (Sela Ward) set the moody tone for the movie. In short order, a stunned, blood-stained Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) finds that his story of a mysterious one-armed man who killed his wife is not washing with the skeptical pair Det. Kelly (Ron Dean) and Det. Rosetti (Joseph F. Kosala). No evidence can be found to support his story, and the misinterpreted dying breath of Helen plus an insurance policy spells bad news for the good Doctor.
Sentenced to death for the particularly gruesome murder, Kimble is transferred along with several other felons on a bus bound for the Illinois prison at Minard. As the bus nears its final destination, the other inmates stage a high-stakes escape attempt that ends in gunfire and a terrible crash. The chaotic aftermath leaves Kimble mildly injured but free, though he does escape a very personal meeting with a very large, moving train and saves the life of an injured corrections officer in the process.
Dashing off into the chilly, moonlit woods, Kimble makes his escape. His footfalls have hardly faded when Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) and his close-knit team, including Cosmo (Joe Pantoliano) and Noah Newman (Tom Wood) come upon the scene and begin to track down their prey. Kimble gets himself cleaned up, clothed, and fed before circumstances send him fleeing with the determined Samuel Gerard & Co. in fierce pursuit. An act of suicidal desperation keeps Kimble free and Gerard exasperated as the hunt resumes.
Kimble can only solve his wife's murder in Chicago, so it is to that famously windy city that he returns. He filches a little money from loyal colleague Dr. Charles Nichols (Jeroen Krabbé) and settles into a rented room while Samuel Gerard and his team go through Kimble's Chicago file with a microscope, looking up old friends and haunts. Kimble then begins his own search at Cook County Hospital, using some clever I.D. forgery to get access to the records for wearers of prosthetic limbs. Armed (snicker) with a list of one-armed men, Kimble slowly weeds through the names.
Ever so slowly, Samuel Gerard is drawn into the heart of Helen Kimble's murder, as he visits the scene and attempts to gain insight into his prey. His professed goal is simply to retake Dr. Kimble, but as time drags on his face seems to wonder why Kimble takes so many risks to stay in Chicago. Gerard really begins to wonder after the good doctor braves a horde of police to verify that a man in the local jail is not the One-Armed Man, only to elude Gerard's grasp in the middle of a St. Patrick's Day parade.
By process of elimination, Dr. Kimble identifies the likely One-Armed Man, Fred Sykes (Andreas Katsulas, best known as G'Kar on Babylon 5) and with a little burglary plunders through Sykes' papers, looking for a motive. The pieces begin to fall into place when he makes the connection of pharmaceutical company Devlin MacGregor and their "wonder drug" Provasic that Kimble had discovered actually caused severe liver damage. He makes very, very sure that Gerard gets wind of this information before vanishing to confront his enemy.
Sykes has an agenda of his own, and after a mysterious phone call he gives his tail a slip and heads out with a loaded gun and a purpose. Kimble finally knows his nemesis, Sykes has his target, Gerard is closing in on his prey, and the true villain is due his retribution, all of which makes for a stunning final confrontation rich with tension and danger. The dust settles with the wrongdoers facing justice, Kimble set to reclaim his freedom, and Gerard dangerously close to a warm and fuzzy moment. Fortunately for Gerard, the film ends first.
The story is one of the best that I have seen in the action/adventure genre, where the script is often sacrificed in favor of action or special effects. Here, we get the meat of the story (namely, Kimble on the run) set up quickly, avoiding the temptation to dwell on the investigation and trial which would have slowed the movie to a crawl before it even got started. The pacing keeps the two hours plus from dragging, and the somewhat dry motives behind Kimble's true enemies are presented in a very clear and compelling fashion. I do have to fault the story on two points. First, perhaps because I actually work in the criminal justice system, I was not able to accept as inevitable fact both Kimble's conviction and particularly his death sentence, at least in the fashion it was presented to me. Secondly, assuming the motives for framing the good doctor, I cannot understand why his enemies would not have preferred to permanently silence him and not trust that the unpredictable justice system would take care of their problem before Kimble realized what had happened.
The acting talent is simply first-rate. Harrison Ford, as always, excels as the seemingly normal man who is forced into extraordinary struggles in the most harrowing of circumstances. If you did not know Kimble to be innocent, Ford's performance would convince you on its own. Tommy Lee Jones is a glorious scene-chewer, the center of every scene that he is in. He is the ultimate cool, calm professional, but with a biting sense of humor that is never flippant or silly. Furthermore, he has a very warm and loyal quality of character that occasionally peeks out in his relations with his team of agents, particularly Noah Newman (Tom Wood). The rest of the cast does a pleasing job in support of the main characters.
Video is a well done anamorphic transfer. The picture is very crisp and clean, and if there were any blemishes or flecks of dirt I must have missed them. Colors are well saturated without bleeding or noise and the blacks are rock-solid, which make some scenes look very pretty indeed (particularly the scene where the river is dyed an Irish green and a number of night-time shots). There is a degree of loss of shadow detail in some of the dimly lit scenes and I noticed a low level of video noise here and there. The transfer was nearly devoid of any digital enhancement artifacts (such as shimmering), but the text in the opening title did shimmy and shake in distracting fashion.
The audio mix has enough pep to showcase your home theater's sound system. The front soundstage is a very active mix, exhibiting excellent separation and faithful sonic reproduction up and down the spectrum. Dialogue is well-centered and distinct, and the score enhances the mood and pacing of the story in dynamic fashion. Your subwoofer will lend its hand as needed, particularly in the still-famous train wreck scene in Chapter 6 that should shake your fillings loose.
Extra content is a thin gruel at best. The menus are Warner-generic, and the production notes listed on the box are missing. The scene index is a user-unfriendly collection of only nine unlabeled chapters. The only actual content is a small cast & crew bio/filmography section. That is it, aside from the abominable snapper-case (though its method of keeping the disc secure is still preferable to that used in the Alpha keep case).
I would also be remiss if I did not note that the box (in the usual small print) indicates that the disc is enhanced for "16:5" televisions. Hmmmm...
As this movie was released fairly early in the growth of DVD, it is perhaps not surprising that the extra content is limited, though this is a common failing of even recent Warner catalog title releases. This is a painful flaw given that The Fugitive is based on a very popular, long running TV series (of the same name) which was in turn inspired by real events. Either of these subjects would have made for interesting background material, in addition to the usual insight and behind the scenes information that a featurette or commentary track on the film itself typically provides. I mean, there's not even the usual trailer (which those of us who appreciate this mini-art form sorely miss).
If you've never seen The Fugitive, then you simply must see it immediately! Put your remote down and run, don't walk, to your nearest DVD rental emporium. For the collectors among you, it is a DVD whose look (and sound!) will help to show off your system to good effect, and at an adequate ($25) price.
The Fugitive is hereby granted a complete and unconditional acquittal, but Warner is ordered into custody for its contemptuous treatment of such a blockbuster.
Review content copyright © 1999 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Production Notes