We’re in the home stretch. In Part 1 and Part 2 of this article, we went through the first 14 immensely rewarding moments in The Fugitive that make it endlessly rewatchable. But the movie isn’t out of tricks yet. It’s got seven more perfect moments that solidify it as one of the best action movies ever made. Let’s get right into them.
15. Disappearing in a Parade
The parade scene is a brilliant way to finish an action sequence. It harkens back to the end of the ambulance chase in the tunnel when Kimble managed to elude hordes of authorities looking to take him down by disappearing into a sewer. This time, he uses a different tactic by hiding in plain sight. He dons a discarded green hat and joins a giant St. Patrick’s Day parade marching down a Chicago street. He blends in seamlessly, even as Gerard and his men close in on his position.
Kimble skillfully maneuvers his way through the crowd and exits the parade mere moments before Gerard turns around and looks right where Kimble just was. Seeing Gerard helplessly throw up his hands in futility is the icing on the cake. He nearly killed Kimble and then let him slip through his fingers in a parade full of eyewitnesses. We don’t question for a moment Gerard’s skill as a tracker. Kimble simply had a little luck of the Irish on his side, and he proved to be slipperier than Gerard could handle. It’s stunning how the movie somehow makes both Kimble and Gerard look competent and determined at the same time without making either one look weak or foolish. All of that perfect buildup of the two characters comes to a head at the end, but we’re not quite there yet.
16. No Press?
If there’s a single scene in The Fugitive that seems at first glance like it could have been cut out without losing anything valuable, it’s the one where Gerard gives a news conference. Nothing is really revealed or discovered as a result of it, but it’s crucially important to the flow of the movie. We need a moment to catch our breath after that last sequence. Much like Kimble’s slow return to Chicago after surviving his dam dive, the movie understands that we need to pause and find our bearings before moving on.
Not only is this a satisfying way to accomplish that, but it also subtly highlights the way that Gerard may be changing his mind. After implementing his policy of no press earlier in the film, he has suddenly reversed course and invited the press into his office to ask questions. He still has next to nothing to say to them, but it’s a step in a new direction. The only thing he adds is a point in his own defense. A reporter recites a summary of the film’s events, and Gerard corrects him that he never presumed Kimble died after his dam dive. Plus, one reporter hints that Kimble’s actions appear to be proof of his innocence, but one of the detectives immediately shoots that down. It wasn’t Gerard who responded, which is odd because he’s always been quick to offer his opinions from the moment he first appeared in the film. He appears more contemplative and slower to form a solid opinion. All of this plants the seed in our minds that Gerard’s intentions toward Kimble may be malleable.
17. Getting Revenge on Sykes
The introduction of Sykes, his escape from police surveillance, and his stalking of Kimble as he reconnects with his old hospital friends are all fantastic scenes. But the culmination of them is the most satisfying, so that’s what I’m going to highlight. In a scene that feels almost like a nod to Alfred Hitchcock, The Fugitive manages to dial the suspense up to 11 by having Kimble sitting on a train nearby a passenger who is reading a newspaper with his mugshot on the cover. The man turns the newspaper around and looks at the mugshot, then glances up at Kimble who tries to smile. The man doesn’t say a word, but we understand exactly what he’s doing when he stands up and walks to the next compartment to alert a waiting police officer.
Kimble is trapped, but before he can weigh his options, Sykes appears out of nowhere. We knew he was close by, but we didn’t realize this would be the moment he’d spring his attack. Before he can kill Kimble, the police officer interrupts, and Sykes shoots him dead. Kimble gains the upper hand in a brutal fight with Sykes, and then he disarms him and handcuffs him to the train so he can’t escape. This scene serves four important purposes:
- It shows how perilously close Kimble has been to detection throughout the movie.
- Kimble gets to take revenge on the man who murdered his wife while ensuring true justice will be served by leaving him unconscious yet alive.
- Kimble once again demonstrates his concern for others when he checks if the police officer is alive or dead.
- The fact that Kimble is suspected of killing an officer raises the stakes for the final conflict yet to come.
It’s so satisfying to see Kimble beat up Skyes. We’ve been waiting for that catharsis the whole movie, and it feels totally earned, especially after watching how callously Sykes shot the officer who was just doing his job.
18. Armed and Dangerous?
During the press interview earlier, one of the reporters asked if Gerard or the Chicago police chiefs thought that Kimble was armed and dangerous, and one of the officers said, “I believe he’s dangerous, yes.” He was very careful not to describe Kimble as armed, even though he had shown a willingness to hold Gerard at gunpoint in the sewer. The rest of Kimble’s actions since then have shown him to be desperate, but not dangerous.
This all leads to a remarkably satisfying conclusion when Kimble escapes the train with two guns: one from Sykes and one from the officer Sykes killed. On his way through a hotel lobby, he spots a way to safely get rid of the guns. A mailbox. It’s simple yet ingenious. He doesn’t want to be seen as a threat, so he immediately disarms. It reminds me of the U.S. embassy scene in The Bourne Identity when Jason Bourne throws a gun into the trash as soon as he gets out of sight of his pursuers. It demonstrates the true intentions of a character when they voluntarily give up a strategic advantage for the sake of a principle they see as more important than their own safety. Kimble doesn’t want to hurt anyone innocent; he just wants justice to be served. I love that the description of him as dangerous but not armed holds true right up to the finale.
19. Interrupting a Dishonest Speech
Don’t you just love seeing evil, shadowy people squirm under a spotlight? The entire movie, we’ve believed that Dr. Charles Nichols was on Kimble’s side. And so did Kimble. But as the revelations piled up heading into the final confrontation, it finally dawns on us who the real bad guy has been the whole time. Suddenly, Nichols’ interactions with Gerard make much more sense. When he had told Gerard that Kimble is too smart for them, and he’s even smarter than himself, we assumed it was supposed to be a jab at Gerard. But now we see it was a grudging admission that Kimble is in the right and Nichols fears he won’t get away with his crimes.
Nichols puts the final nail in his coffin during his speech to a large group of doctors and pharmaceutical experts. Seeing Kimble alive and well after siccing Sykes on him throws Nichols for a loop in the middle of the most lucrative speech of his life. He even inadvertently admits to being dishonest in his work when he meant to say “honest.” Kimble isn’t afraid to call him out in front of everyone. He knows Nichols and Sykes killed his wife, and they had wanted to kill him. So he proceeds to kill Nichols’ career by laying out the evidence of his dishonesty and leaving a stunned room behind him.
20. Get Rid of That Helicopter
Kimble and Nichols engage in a savage fistfight that brings them to the roof of a skyscraper. The trouble is that the Chicago police are urgently hunting Kimble because they think he’s a cop killer, so there’s a helicopter up there containing a sniper with orders to shoot Kimble on sight. As Kimble and Nichols fight and try to escape detection by the police helicopter, Gerard slowly follows. He asks one of his men to call off the helicopter, especially when they start shooting. The only reason he gives for that request is that he doesn’t want to get shot.
That’s a brilliant touch because it keeps us from knowing Gerard’s true intentions. Even at this point in the movie when Kimble has led him down the right trail and given him all the clues he needs to prove his innocence, we still don’t know what Gerard believes and what he’s going to do. The last time he saw Kimble, he tried to shoot him. But now he’s trying to protect him from getting shot. What does it mean? The trouble is that he’s couching his motives in self-serving terms, so we can’t be sure that he cares about Kimble’s safety or not. He even stops one of his men from shooting Kimble on an elevator when he has a clear shot at him. All of this buildup has a perfect payoff, so it’s worth it to suffer through such exquisite suspense.
21. The Ultimate Film Climax
The filmmakers didn’t have an ending to their movie. They literally made up the climax to The Fugitive on the spot. And it’s perfect. The idea of stopping in the laundry area, Gerard shouting to Kimble that he knows he’s innocent, Nichols sneaking around to get a gun, and Kimble desperately trying to protect Gerard – all of these brilliant elements seamlessly came together without a plan. Nichols overhears everything Gerard says to Kimble, so he knows the only way he can escape now is to kill Gerard. In the blink of an eye, the film’s core conflict of Kimble trying to prove his innocence while being pursued by Gerard gets solved. Kimble successfully got Gerard, a tough-as-nails U.S. marshal who didn’t care about his innocence or guilt, on his side.
Their roles suddenly reverse. Now Gerard knows Kimble is innocent, and Kimble has to save his life by finding Nichols and stopping him before he can shoot Gerard. It’s the ultimate film climax when Gerard declares, “It’s time to stop running!” and then Nichols points at a gun at his back and Kimble barely prevents disaster by hitting him with a metal pipe. This movie actually rewards us for rooting for both Kimble and Gerard by allowing them to save each other in their final confrontation. The moment after Kimble knocks Nichols out, Gerard gives him one last scare by refusing to point his gun away from Kimble, as if to remind them both that he’s still a wanted criminal. But he finally lowers his gun and admits that Kimble was right the whole time, and then he relieves the tension by joking that he’s glad he can finally stop chasing Kimble.
As far as we know, Gerard is only interested in his job. We never see him at home, with his family, or anything like that. He is the embodiment of the law and cold justice. At the start, he only sees Kimble as a fugitive from the law, and it’s his job to bring him in. Seeing an unchangeable being like this, who doesn’t care, doesn’t bargain, and doesn’t stop until the big dog howls, make such a huge change over the course of the film is the most rewarding part of The Fugitive. When he demonstrates with his actions (if not his words) that he truly does care about Kimble, we see that this movie wasn’t just about amazing stunts, detective work, suspense, and medical malpractice. It was also about an uncompromising man coming to grips with the fact that he may not always be perfect. And that’s okay. Kimble and Gerard had the same goal this whole time; they just didn’t know it until the end.
A Perfect Movie
As I was getting ready to write this conclusion, my eldest sister asked me if I think the makers of The Fugitive knew what they were doing as they crafted all of these satisfying moments. I told her no way. They never had a finished script, and they basically wrote entire scenes the day before filming them. Try listening to the filmmakers’ commentary on the DVD, and you’ll find that actor Tommy Lee Jones and director Andrew Davis keep getting engrossed in the film, as if they can’t believe they actually made it. It’s so perfect that it casts a special kind of magic on the very men responsible for it being what it is!
This movie is a happy accident that could never be recreated if they tried. And they did. Ever hear of U.S. Marshals, the 1998 sequel to The Fugitive? It’s an okay action movie, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the original. There’s simply no way to recapture this lightning in a bottle.
I am dead serious when I say that The Fugitive is a perfect movie. Not one character ever acts irrationally or does something that infuriates me. Plenty of mistakes are made, and dangerous situations are escaped by the skin of their teeth. But those things only serve to ratchet up the tension and get me more invested in what happens next. Despite their flaws, the characters always come across as smart and serious at doing their jobs to the best of their ability.
If you want to experience pure bliss, do yourself a favor and start watching The Fugitive again. You’ll find yourself constantly being rewarded in many more ways than the 21 I pointed out.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Your trio of articles on The Fugitive, along with a handful of re-watches of the film (including last night) since the emergence of COVID-19, have allowed me to finally accept something regarding the film and 1993 in cinema:
I watch The Fugitive more than Schindler’s List.
I reference The Fugitive more than Schindler’s List.
Therefore, I *like* The Fugitive more than Schindler’s List.
If I was an Academy member then, I’d’ve voted for The Fugitive for Best Picture 1993. And sure, arguments about how Tommy Lee Jones didn’t deserve to beat…well, pretty much everyone else in his Best Supporting Actor 1993 category except for John Malkovich (In the Line of Fire), remain acceptable. Yet Jones’ Dep. Gerard continues to be *such* a great character from start to finish that I can’t *help* but forgive Jones for winning his Oscar.
Phew…You know I’m glad? I could use the rest. XD
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Your comment is more brilliant than anything I wrote in these three articles. Thank you! And you’re absolutely right. The Fugitive is a joy to rewatch over and over, unlike even some of the most respected works of art.