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‘The Fugitive: 30th Anniversary Edition’ 4K UHD (review)

Warner Bros.

Critics often use the word “Hitchcockian” to describe scenes that evoke Psycho or Frenzy: long knives, killers stalking, deep psychological torment.

This isn’t necessarily inaccurate, but the bulk of the Master’s output were crowd pleasing thrillers about ordinary men pitted against the impersonal forces of the state on a quest to prove their innocence.

In this sense, The Fugitive stands alongside Blow Out and Jaws as great American tributes to the work of the greatest Anglophile director of all time.

The Fugitive is an adaptation of the 1963 television series, one of the first in a series of Hollywood big budget adaptations of classic television programs in the 90’s.

Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, a Chicago heart surgeon who is framed for the brutal murder of his wife (Sela Ward), and sentenced to death.

A freak accident frees him on the way to prison, and he hunts after the one-armed man (Andreas Katsulas) who really killed his wife, as he is in fact hunted by the relentless US Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, in his career best role).

The Fugitive possesses the quality that some of the great studio system films (Casablanca being the ultimate example) have of being an instance where a group of solid craftsmen came together and ended up with a film that was beyond the sum of its parts.

Director Andrew Davis had made a name for himself by making good action films that used the Chicago setting effectively and getting good performances from movie stars who did not have a reputation as being strong actors. The Fugitive feels like the natural evolution of films like Code of Silence and Above the Law, but with bigger production values and better talent in front of the camera.

One of the defining characteristics of much of Hitchcock’s filmography is the sympathetic villain, and how appropriate is that this film has one of the greatest classical antagonists in the history of cinema: Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard. Gerard is driven, intelligent, resourceful, and inflexible. He creates a deep conflict in the audience because his motives are pure, and his cause is just and normally such a hyper competent law enforcement agent would be a blessing to the community…but we know he’s chasing the wrong man.

One scene in particular sums up the central predicament Gerard creates: Kimble, after having made a daring escape wherein he was presumed dead, calls his lawyer for help. Gerard has the lawyer’s phone tapped and by isolating the background noise from the call identifies Kimble’s position down to the L Train stop. This is a bravura performance that cemented Tommy Lee Jones’ screen identity from this point forward and won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

That said, Harrison Ford rises to the challenge and delivers one of the best performances of his career in response.

Extras include an introduction with Davis, Ford, and Jones, audio commentary, featurettes, and a trailer.

The Fugitive is ultimately the story of a man who has to recover the heroism inside himself in order to save his own life, and the process of doing so is so powerful that it converts the forces chasing him and causes them to doubt his guilt. Kimble is an ordinary man whose drive to help people, even as it puts his own life at risk, pulls us to root for him even in the face of such strong opposition.

This is a breathless thriller filled with great performances, relentless suspense, and great writing– Hitchcock would be proud.

 

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