The film opens with the murder of Dr. Kimble’s wife. It’s very blurry and in slow motion so most of the violence is muffled by the odd camera angles. It’s clear what’s happening but the details are fuzzy, which makes the crime all the more poignant since it is precisely the truth of these details that forms the subject of the next scene with Dr. Kimble’s trial. The most damning evidence is a 911 call of Mrs. Kimble in which she says she’s being attacked and then calls out her husband’s name before dying.
We are then treated to the escape, which is an exciting action scene. Dr. Kimble is being moved by a prison bus when several of the other prisoners attempt to escape. They cause the bus to run off-road and flip over several times before landing on the tracks of an oncoming train. Dr. Kimble barely escapes and then runs for it.
Enter Tommy Lee Jones as the U.S. Marshall sent to capture Kimble and the one other prisoner to survive the crash. This is Tommy Lee Jones at his best. He’s sarcastic, scarily perceptive, and cracks jokes in a dead-pan fashion. He also immediately takes charge and announces one of the best short speeches I’ve ever heard in a film in which he directs the police to search every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and dog house in a four mile radius.
While we can certainly relate to the sympathetic Dr. Kimble and his quest to discover the truth behind his wife’s murder, it’s really the U.S. Marshall that makes this film so much fun. When Gerard confronts Kimble for the first time in a sewer, Kimble announces that he didn’t kill his wife. Gerard, even though he has a gun pointed at his head, casually replies that he doesn’t care. He’s funny, single-minded and seemingly good at his job.
The overall story is a standard murder mystery. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil the ending but there really aren’t many twists and turns. What’s interesting about the film, however, is how Dr. Kimble uses his knowledge of hospitals to sneak back into society and covertly investigate his wife’s murder while playing cat-and-mouse with Gerard. Both men are intelligent and it’s fun to watch them match wits even though they aren’t technically enemies.
The film is a drama so there are a lot of slow moments broken up by the occasional chase scene. There’s a fist fight at the climax, which is so over-the-top ridiculous and long that it almost takes away from the real seriousness of the rest of the film. My older kids really got into the story. They liked the conflict and the tension between the two main characters. There’s a villain and his lackey but they are in the film so little they might as well be side characters.
One of the interesting little trivia bits about The Fugitive is that they filmed part of the movie in North Carolina. They crashed a train into a bus and then pretty much left it here. You can drive out and see the wreckage if you are so inclined. They did a sequel to The Fugitive called U.S. Marshalls, which followed Gerard tracking down a different fugitive played by Welsey Snipes. I remember seeing it years ago and not being very impressed. I don’t remember much about it.
There was one thing in the story that stood out to me personally more this time around and that was one of plot twists involving a pharmaceutical company that was faking its research in order to get a drug approved. I’m not just not shocked by it. I guess it might be because I’m older now and have had more experience with the medical industry that I’m honestly disillusioned about the lack of morality in the health sector. Or maybe it’s because I’ve studied how academic and scientific research is conducted that this kind of blatant falsehood for profit doesn’t surprise or alarm me. I kind of almost expect it. Now I just feel jaded.
Overall, The Fugitive is a great drama. Harrison Ford plays the mournful victim well. We feel bad for Dr. Kimble and want him to discover the truth. You can feel his simmering anger at the injustice of the situation and while I enjoyed his detective-work, the scenes where he’s kicking butt and brawling just feels out of place. Thankfully, those scenes are short and there aren’t too many of them. Tommy Lee Jones is just awesome as the hunter. The dialog is witty and the banter between Gerard and his team helps us enjoy the ride.