So I read an article recently saying that The Fugitive is the kind of adult-oriented thriller big studios don’t make anymore, bygone era, yada yada. Decided to rewatch it.
When it’s good it’s very good. Tommy Lee Jones’s Sam Gerard – a sort of gruffer, less patient Columbo – is one for the ages, and in its best stretches (e.g. from “I want a hard target search of every outhouse, doghouse, yada yada” to the dam jump) it is amazingly assured. Pantoliano brings the Pantoliano like he always does.
But I was always bothered by Act III and upon rewatching it, even moreso. The moment Jeroen Crabbe busts a chair over Harrison Ford’s back I feel the film loses its way. Watching it in the theater I had that feeling – that sinking feeling that a smart movie suddenly decided to get dumb.
Rewatching I have more or less the same reaction. Here are my two big issues:
What is Dr. Nichols (Crabbe) thinking?? Wanted murderer walks into your keynote address and starts lobbing accusations. Do you a) get the fuck out of dodge, let the cops arrest or kill him, and lawyer the fuck up, or b) start breaking chairs over people’s heads? What possible advantage can option B gain for him? Best case he kills Kimble, and then he gets arrested himself. If he just bails he can at least flee the country at his own leisure, assuming Kimble does indeed manage to marshal the evidence against him.
Earlier, when the Marshals are interviewing Nichols, he says he believes Kimble is innocent and acts as his ally, basically treating Gerard’s team like annoying insects. This behavior seems to exist for the purpose of misdirecting the audience. It’s one thing for Nichols to pretend to help Kimble face-to-face, but why would he tell the cops he’s on his side? Why wouldn’t he do everything he could to assist the marshals, since Kimble back on death row (or, better yet, killed resisting arrest) is his best-case scenario?
The only way this makes sense to me is if Nichols simply panics and starts behaving irrationally. Which I guess may have some psychological truth to it, but isn’t usually something that a good movie villain can do.
Any Fugitive fans out there want to help me out? I would like to like all of this movie, not just 2/3rds of it.