The Fugitive isn’t so much a movie as it is a masterclass thesis for Tommy Lee Jones in the art of acting. Don’t get me wrong, Harrison Ford is great too, I’d argue he gives the second best performance of his career (second only to Witness, come at me Star Wars/Indiana Jones fans). But, Tommy is remarkable here, an actor truly at the top of his game, not afraid to hunt down Richard Kimble through the rigid, cold streets of Chicago into the dark lonely night.
The Fugitive is a well-known movie, released in the early 1990s and still holds up in entertainment value today. It’s got Harrison, Tommy, as well as Julianne Moore, Joe Pantoliano and a few other key players. But one thing I caught this time watching The Fugitive that I had never seen before was that Richard Kimble had gotten the death penalty. It wasn’t just life gallivanting around some semi-maximum security prison, no, this guy was going to receive a wrongfully-convicted lethal dose of state-induced death. In that sense, it really shows how Kimble has literally nothing to lose, how every risk and sleight of hand, how every cunning costume and awkward run isn’t so much to prove his innocence but to keep him alive.
The movie is thrilling on every level. Harrison Ford doesn’t speak much, conveying the angst of a wrongfully-convicted man through his eyes and slumped arms more than his words. But man, Tommy Lee Jones is top gun here, a brash, confident but astute U.S. Marshall who commands respect from his peers and intimidation from his enemies. If there was ever an archetype for the single, perfect cop movie character, Tommy Lee Jones’ role in The Fugitive would be it.
Arguably, the most iconic scene from the film is Harrison yelling at Jones he didn’t kill his wife, to which Jones replies “I don’t care.” But my personal, favorite scene is when the U.S. Marshalls are deliberating whether they heard an L train in Chicago or if its a train from elsewhere. There’s a heavy amount of doubt and skepticism floating in the room, surely Richard Kimble wouldn’t be stupid enough to return to his home city. But through thoughtful analysis and police work, they boil it down to Kimble being there, just through a hunch.
Kimble too operates on hunches throughout the film, opting to go down a staircase or proceed through a certain hallway, even though there isn’t ample evidence that shows one way could be better than the other. Same thing with Tommy when he’s chasing Kimble. He knows Kimble is a wild card, a near Mensa member compared to the common street thug, so when he’s in pursuit of Kimble he quite literally needs to think three or four steps ahead, just to reach the same spot. The movie works because we see Harrison and Tommy as equals, no man smarter than the other, and if their roles were reverse, no man would be less or more successful. They’re two masterfully-crafted characters at the top of their game.
Funny enough, Tommy Lee Jones was popular enough in The Fugitive to warrant his own semi-sequel called U.S. Marshalls, with Wesley Snipes playing the ill-fated suspect instead of Harrison. That movie didn’t necessarily suck, but compared to The Fugitive, it seems much more like an afternoon special. But the fact that you literally have a supporting character who is so popular, so well-crafted and likable and intimidating that a major studio is willing to bank on him for a sequel without the leading star, well, that speaks volumes to how good his role is. And it only speaks even higher to how The Fugitive is one of the best crime capers of the modern era.