The Fugitive is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s a flawless film, which is incredible given that it started principal photography with an unfinished script. I recently realized that the reason the movie is so great to watch is because it’s constantly rewarding the audience in big and small ways. It rewards us for paying close attention to details. All of those details lead us to root for both Dr. Richard Kimble and Deputy Samuel Gerard to succeed in their goals, even though they seem irreconcilable at first. Plus, we get to marvel at the film’s brilliance as we also enjoy the ride. Here are 21 incredibly rewarding moments in The Fugitive that help to make it a great film.
1. No Prints
We’re starting out small because that’s what the movie does. It gives us a nice reward for noticing little details. During Kimble’s trial, witnesses testify that there were no fingerprints found except for Kimble and his wife’s. And as they say that, we see the killer’s gloved hand picking up a blunt object to crush Mrs. Kimble’s skull with. It’s horrific and shocking, but also educational and gratifying because it’s telling us that if we remain alert, we’ll pick up on crucial information throughout the film to help us figure out mysteries.
The gloved hand that hangs up the phone after Mrs. Kimble’s desperate 911 call is a great final kicker to the scene. Not only does it reinforce the fact that the killer’s fingerprints wouldn’t be found at the scene of the crime, but that he was listening to her call and allowing it to happen. It’s a chilling moment that makes her final words all the more tragic.
Plus, fingerprints come into play again later when Kimble visits the killer’s home and leaves his fingerprints all over the room and on some photographs he wants Gerard to analyze. This time, instead of leaving self-incriminating evidence, Kimble is able to turn the tables and basically draw a map for his pursuers to follow. And it leads to the true perpetrators of his wife’s murder.
2. Escaping the Train
The movie’s first big test comes during the bus crash and subsequent train crash. This is the point at which the audience gets to gauge how well the movie has done at making us sympathize with Kimble. We’ve seen his feet and hands get locked in chains as he’s forced to ride on a bus heading toward the prison with a few other convicted felons.
A believable series of events leads to the bus falling off the road onto a train track. When we see Kimble getting thrown around inside the rolling bus and then asking to be unlocked by the police officer, there’s no question that we’re on his side. He manages to unlock his hands before accidentally dropping the keys near another prisoner named Copeland. A train bears done on the bus, and the other survivors desert Kimble as he’s trying to save the life of a wounded officer. At that moment, our sympathy turns into admiration for his courage under fire.
However, it’s not just Kimble’s kindness and amazing leap off the bus that always stick in my mind. It’s the fact that after the train unhooks and derails, heading right toward the poor doctor who is running as fast as he can away from it, we cut to a brief shot of the shackles still attached to Kimble’s ankles. The scene takes on a whole new tenor when we’re reminded that he never unlocked his legs, making his situation all the more dire. It’s a brilliant touch that makes us root for Kimble more than we ever thought possible during this scene and the rest of the movie.
3. Shutting Down the Sheriff
From the moment Deputy Samuel Gerard appears on screen, we know he’s not a man to be trifled with. He’s clearly in charge, even though the local sheriff doesn’t take him seriously at first. It presents a challenge that he’s happy to overcome. He doesn’t come across as an idle bystander but shows his superior knowledge by suggesting a number of checkpoints on major highways in the area. When the sheriff dismissively claims that all of the prisoners are dead and there’s nothing left to do, Gerard demands he hand over the investigation to him on the authority of the governor and U.S. Marshals office. The sheriff reluctantly agrees.
Right after that, they discover a set of unlocked leg irons, and the sheriff is stunned into silence. He tries to whine about receiving faulty information, but he’s quickly shut down for good by Gerard. There’s a perceptible change in the atmosphere as soon as Gerard takes charge and starts barking orders. He’s both specific and dogmatic in his demands. In one brief scene, we’ve watched him take control and he won’t relinquish that control until he’s tracked down and arrested Kimble. It’s satisfying to see him take the reins from the sheriff who isn’t taking the situation as seriously as him and steamroll every obstacle that stands in his way.
4. Taking Rusty’s Advice
The scene in the hospital after Kimble performs emergency surgery on himself begins a wonderful trend of him running into people who should probably recognize him, but who thankfully remain oblivious to his identity. After changing into a doctor coat to disguise himself, he gets approached by a police officer in a hospital hallway. He can’t change direction or start running, so he just has to keep walking forward and try to look disinterested when the officer asks if he’s seen a convict who escaped from the train wreck. Thinking quickly, he asks for a description of the man, and the officer obliges him. Kimble tries to make a joke out of the fact that he almost perfectly matches the description, and then he excuses himself. The officer stops him, nearly giving Kimble a heart attack, but it’s just to point out that his fly is unzipped.
It’s a perfect way to break the tension because he just put those clothes on, and his mind is in a million places, so it makes sense that he would forget something small like that. The officer chuckles to himself as he turns around and instantly forgets about the interaction.
This is so great because it exactly follows the rules Rusty set forth in Ocean’s Eleven to convince someone you’re lying to that you’re instead telling the truth: “Don’t shift your weight, look always at your mark but don’t stare, be specific but not memorable, be funny but don’t make him laugh. He’s got to like you then forget you the moment you’ve left his side.”
5. Oxygen Mask
Right before the train crash, Kimble managed to barely get a wounded police officer out of harm’s away before jumping off of the bus. By a stroke of luck, that officer survived until the next morning when he was found by the authorities dealing with the aftermath. He gets transported to the same hospital Kimble made his way to in order to perform emergency surgery on himself to seal and disinfect a major wound in his side. While walking out of the hospital, Kimble runs into him being brought in on a stretcher.
This is a satisfying moment because the wounded officer is trying to warn the hospital staff that a wanted murderer is standing right next to them, but we know that’s not true and that the only reason he’s alive to try to snitch is because Kimble is the opposite of a murderer. It’s made even sweeter because Kimble takes two actions to help the officer. He puts an oxygen mask on him to shut him up and he tells the paramedics that he has a wound in his upper-gastric area that he couldn’t have known about except that he witnessed it on the bus. It doesn’t help him maintain his disguise to tell them that, but he can’t help being a good guy.
6. Stealing an Ambulance
Two big themes come out during the ambulance chase. Kimble’s actions appear totally justified, and he manages to disappear without a trace amidst a sea of police. It doesn’t feel like he steals an ambulance. It feels earned because the ambulance wouldn’t have been there if the night before Kimble hadn’t saved the police officer it was carrying. And he needs a quick way to get away after having his cover blown by once again being a good guy.
The chase he leads the police and U.S. Marshals on is intense, suspenseful, and satisfying. We keep cutting to lots of police cars leaping into action to follow the ambulance, even though they never appear in the same shot as the ambulance. But the feeling of overwhelming dread keeps mounting because we know there’s no escape for Kimble. That is until he comes to a sudden halt in a tunnel and gets a clever idea. While authorities cut off his escape on both ends of the tunnel, he manages to disappear into a sewer. The frustration on the faces of Gerard and his men as they try to figure out what just happened is priceless.
7. I Don’t Care
I love everything about the sewer scene. Kimble is harried and desperate while Gerard pursues him slowly and methodically. When Kimble makes his way carefully down a dangerous decline in the pipe, we fear for him because it looks like he might fall and hurt himself. Instead, he gives away his position by accidentally hitting his hand into the wall. It looked like he did a bad job until Gerard shows up and tries to pull off a similar feat on the opposite side of the tunnel. He slips and falls almost immediately, showing that Kimble was wise to do what he did.
And then the best thing happens. Kimble picks up Gerard’s gun and points it at him. He yells, “I didn’t kill my wife!” As an audience, that’s what we care about. We know he’s innocent, and we want him to avoid suffering unjustly, so it makes perfect sense for him to use that as his defense. But Gerard shatters our hope of justice when he responds, “I don’t care!” He’s not a lawyer, judge, or anything like that. He’s a trained dog who only knows one trick – hunt down his target. And he’ll never stop until he gets his man. Innocence and guilt mean nothing to him. Kimble was convicted of his crime, and he’s managed to escape from prison. Gerard isn’t here to show mercy or help him. He’s just here to take him back to prison. That makes his change over the rest of the film that much more astonishing and satisfying.
We’re Just Getting Started
This article has gotten completely out of hand. I intended it to be a fun, breezy read, but it’s kind of turned into an unwieldy beast. We’re only a third of the way through the list I’ve put together, and we’re dangerously approaching 2,000 words. I’m making the executive decision to split this article into three parts so it’ll be easier to digest a little at a time. There are plenty of rewarding moments to come, so stay tuned!
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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