The Fugitive (1993) third act (spoiley)

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

What you’re describing is not the last 1/3rd of the movie, maybe the last 1/15th? That’s my recollection of it anyway, it’s been a few years since I watched it last.

I don’t remember being bothered by it. If it’s a question of leaving the audience with there you go, someone who has lawyered up and will eventually be brought to justice or leave them with a panicked villain who gives himself away in his panic, I felt the latter is a whole lot more satisfying.

In terms of running time not 1/3rd, but by that language I just mean the third act generally.

Agree to disagree on what is satisfying. When a villain is set up as a smart smoothie with money and resources and connections, turning into Mr. Fisticuffs with no plan for how those fisticuffs will help, doesn’t satisfy me. If he were truly a cornered rat it might work, but he’s not a cornered rat when Kimble approaches him at the keynote. He still has a chance to slip away.

Yeah, I absolutely hate it when characters in movies do stupid things just because it advances the plot, even if it is completely out of character for that character as it has been constructed through the movie previously. Bad, bad, bad writing.

The fact that this thread exists has made my day. I mean that totally for reals. I remember going to see this movie and enjoying it but not giving it a moment’s thought once I left, or probably much during really. But I think it’s great that you did. I hope you find what you’re looking for.

I think a lot about screenplays and how to end them, so when (in my estimation) a good one makes a wrong turn, it makes me sad.

Stay tuned – one day I will start a thread about why Stray Cat Strut’s lyrics have been driving me insane for years!

I realized this, yes. But I was making a point as well. That being it’s such a small part of the movie. The catharsis at the end is the meeting between Tommy Lee Jones’ Sam Gerard and Richard Kimble. That’s the focus the audience cares about, not the villain we just found out was the villain who acts irrationally.

That’s a fair point; it’s true that the central relationship is between Gerard and Kimble. And their interaction does conclude in a satisfactory way.

I now like the movie slightly more!

Great point. Great thread. Now I want to watch this again.