Reel Rumbles #22: “The Fugitive” vs. “Minority Report”
In This Corner…
Sooner or later, everybody runs. Even if they’re one of the biggest movie stars on the face of the planet. For this edition of Reel Rumbles, grab your popcorn and prepare for the run of your life as we go on the lam with Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise in an attempt to prove their innocence (and cinematic superiority) with The Fugitive vs. Minority Report.
These two thrillers both feature a cinema superstar accused of murder and on the run from the law. One is a tense cat-and-mouse game between a surgeon out to find his wife’s real killer and the dogged U.S. Marshal on his tail; the other is set in the not-so-distant future, and features a law enforcement officer trying to clear himself of a murder that hasn’t even been committed yet. One is an almost unexpected masterwork from a director whose other best-known credits are the Steven Seagal vehicle Under Siege and a Coast Guard movie starring Ashton Kutcher. The other is a superb thriller-with-a-sci-fi-twist from one of cinema’s greatest living legends that, despite how great it is, somehow still doesn’t seem to quite match some of the director’s previous cinematic efforts.
So which is better? Run–don’t walk–into the Reel Rumbles ring and find out…
Round One: Story
Based on a popular 1960’s TV series (and, in turn, inspiring another), the story for The Fugitive (1993) is pretty straightforward, and not necessarily something that hasn’t been done before. Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), a successful vascular surgeon, returns home from an emergency surgery to find an intruder with a prosthetic arm in his house who has beaten his wife to death. When the intruder flees, Kimble, in a lack of evidence to the contrary, finds himself accused of his own wife’s murder. Why’d he do it? For the insurance money, the cops claim. It’s pretty obvious to the viewer from the get-go that Kimble is innocent. The real story is about Kimble finding himself on the lam when a group of prisoners stages an escape mid-transport. Pursued by the dogged U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), who continues his manhunt long after other less determined and intelligent law enforcement officers might have considered Kimble dead, Kimble must find a way to prove his innocence and find his wife’s real killer.
Though tales of falsely-accused men on the run have been done before, The Fugitive is one that handles its story with style. Of course, Kimble is innocent. Of course, despite never giving Kimble an inch, Gerard will come to see it. Of course, there’s a bigger conspiracy going on. But it’s still a riveting ride.
Minority Report (2002), meanwhile, is practically an orgy of ideas. In the year 2054, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is a lead investigator in the six-year-old Washington D.C. Precrime program, in which law enforcement officers use three people who can see the future (called precogs) to predict murders, and thus stop them before they happen. The program apparently works; D.C. has been murder-free for six years. But when Anderton finds himself accused of a future murder, he must go on the run to escape being put away for life. Will he discover why he is supposed to murder a man he’s never met? Can he avoid his fate? And if he does, won’t that bring the program to which he has devoted six years of his life crashing down?
Based on a short story, “The Minority Report”, by renowned science fiction author Philip K. Dick (some of whose other works became popular films such as Blade Runner and Total Recall), Minority Report presents an eerily plausible near-future world. It presents as a cautionary tale, and puts a definitely unique spin on the idea of an innocent man on the run for murder: How can you be accused of committing a murder that hasn’t happened yet? And if you know your own future, can’t you change it?
Both of these films are rollicking adventures, but if only for the more unique aspects of its story, this round goes to Minority Report, 10-9.
Round Two: Script
This round is a little different. While The Fugitive is a familiar story, it moves like a bullet, and features fantastic touches that set it apart from other thrillers. The dialogue, particularly from Sam Gerard, is cracking (did Tommy Lee Jones improvise a lot of that stuff…?), and there are plenty of sequences that build fantastic suspense and show Richard Kimble as an exceedingly smart man, just managing, through both skill and a great deal of luck, to stay just one step ahead of Gerard’s Marshals. Look at the scene where Kimble enters a comatose patient’s hospital room to steal a quick meal and change his appearance. Or when he boldly breaks into a prosthetic lab in an attempt to find a lead on the one-armed man who killed his wife. The story for The Fugitive may be somewhat familiar, but, as scripted, it is thoroughly engaging.
Minority Report is definitely exciting, and moves along at a brisk pace. But there are a few minor detours and speed bumps that keep it from driving as smoothly as it could. The incredibly detailed near-future sci-fi world that the film creates is mostly to blame for this. Witness the surreal scene in which a mad doctor (played by Fargo‘s Peter Stormare) swaps out Anderton’s eyes so he can avoid detection by the numerous retinal scanners across the city. This is necessary for the plot, of course, but it deviates into unnecessary exposition about the doctor being a criminal whom Anderton once put away. And there are a few times when the admittedly fascinating gadgets created for Minority Report‘s near-future world seem more like fascinating experiments and diversions than actually serving to move the story along.
Where every sequence in The Fugitive serves to either move the plot or give significant insights into the characters of Richard Kimble and Sam Gerard, Minority Report takes the occasional sci-fi indulgence. And so, if only for simplicity’s sake, The Fugitive takes this round, 10-9.
Round Three: Performances
Harrison Ford is a quintessential movie hero. Obviously best known for his roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, there aren’t too many times in the man’s filmography where he rises above the “Harrison Ford” persona to create a truly unique character. It happens, though (see The Mosquito Coast, or his Oscar-nominated turn in Witness), and, fortunately, The Fugitive is one of those times. Dr. Richard Kimble is a tortured soul, and Ford gives him real depth. He’s especially effective in the opening scenes, when a shell-shocked Kimble is interrogated by the police after having come across his dead wife and her attacker.
But tipping the scales further in The Fugitive‘s favor is Tommy Lee Jones in his Oscar-winning role as U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard. Jones plays Gerard, the cop who always gets his man, with steely perfection. There may be no cooler moment in the film than Gerard’s rousing speech as the manhunt begins. (“Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble…”) And his brief interactions with Ford are quite memorable. (“I didn’t kill my wife!” / “I don’t care!”) Gerard makes it abundantly clear that he’s there to do his job, not solve a puzzle; Jones keeps his eye on the ball, and the result netted him Oscar gold.
The cast of Minority Report, meanwhile, are no slouches. Tom Cruise is similar to Harrison Ford in that his star power occasionally derails what he’s trying to do on screen, but with three Oscar nominations under his belt (for Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire and Magnolia), he’s no slouch. Anybody who saw Tropic Thunder in 2008 could tell you that Tom Cruise is still capable of disappearing into a role, no matter what his personal life is like. And in Minority Report, he performs admirably. John Anderton runs the gamut of emotions in this film: from all-business Precrime cop to a father in panic when his son is abducted, to pure, unadulterated rage and heartbreaking grief. It’s a good performance, though that star wattage certainly shines through in some of the action scenes.
There is strong support in the rest of the cast, too, from Kathryn Morris as Anderton’s estranged wife, to Max Von Sydow as his austere boss, to Colin Farrell as the Federal agent determined to find the crack in Precrime’s shell of success. There are also small but great bits from talented character actors like Peter Stormare and Tim Blake Nelson. The standout, however, is Samantha Morton as Agatha, the precog who carries a secret pain that could bring the whole Precrime organization down. She absolutely steals every scene she’s in, and gives Tommy Lee Jones a run for his money, in terms of who gives the best performance in either film.
In a case like this, though, it’s all about the leads, who carry the pictures. Cruise comes out swinging, but with a performance that almost seems revelatory from the man who brought Han Solo to life, Harrison Ford helps The Fugitive just nudge ahead in this round, 10-9.
Round Four: Direction
Director Andrew Davis definitely supplies an above-average ride of a thriller with The Fugitive. He coaxes one of the actor’s personal greatest performances out of Harrison Ford. And while the film is lighter on big action sequences than films Davis has made with the likes of Chuck Norris (Code of Silence), Steven Seagal (Under Siege) or Arnold Schwarzenegger (Collateral Damage)–what scenes there are pack a real punch. The train wreck sequence is absolutely spectacular, and when Sam Gerard pursues Richard Kimble out of the county lockup and through a Saint Patrick’s Day parade, it’s breathless filmmaking of the highest order.
But Davis’ opponent in this arena is none other than one of the greatest living directors in cinema history. Steven Spielberg is the man behind both crowd-pleasing popcorn fare like Jaws, the Indiana Jones films and Jurassic Park, as well as thought-provoking, dramatic Oscar bait like Schindler’s List, Munich and Saving Private Ryan. He’s a sure bet with character-driven dialogue scenes, and has also created some of the most heart-pounding, enormous action sequences in all of film making.
And Minority Report is no exception. Many people might not consider this film to be one of his best, but it’s above his average, and it’s fantastic. John Anderton’s run from the law is every bit as thrilling as Richard Kimble’s. There is a sequence in a sun-drenched attic where Samantha Morton‘s precog, Agatha, relates to Anderton the alternate future his dead son might have had, and Tom Cruise breaks down in heartbreaking fashion. And the spyder sequence–in which small, tripodal machines hunt for Anderton in an apartment building by seeking out his thermal signature–is one of the most thrilling, edge-of-your-seat sequences you’ll ever see.
However, there are a couple of scenes in Minority Report that stretch credibility to the breaking point. The most notable is a fight sequence in an automobile manufacturing plant, where the escape vehicle for Tom Cruise’s character is literally built around him. Spielberg directs the sequence with flair, but it may cause more than one rolled eyeball. (Oh, and let’s not get started on the literal rolling eyeballs…)
Andrew Davis hits a career pinnacle with The Fugitive, while, with Minority Report, Steven Spielberg seems to be merely having an above-average day at the office. We’ll call it close, but after a bitter fight, we’ll see that Spielberg takes his film on a couple of minor cornball corkscrews, while Davis flies his straight as an arrow, winning this round for The Fugitive: 10-9.
And the Winner Is…
You can’t go wrong with either of these films. Looking for a great escape? Pop either in your DVD player and go for a run. But at the end of the day, this is Flickchart, and one film has to win, while the other loses. Minority Report has fascinating sci-fi trappings that give it an edge, but truthfully, the simplicity of The Fugitive‘s story–straight as an arrow–and its magnificent acting just put it ahead. The winner of this bout, by SPLIT DECISION, and the narrowest of margins: The Fugitive.