Ebertfest 2018, Day 1

| April 19, 2018

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Time has a funny effect on great movies.  Watching The Fugitive last night as the opening film for Champaign, Illinois’ 20th Annual Ebertfest was chance not only to catch up on a movie I hadn’t seen in at least a decade, but also to recapture the magic in a theater with an excited audience.

The effect, to be honest, is bittersweet.  While my wife and I were thrilled to see this film again, I came to realize that such a movie was made for a theater and that the small screen just doesn’t do it justice.  Andy Davis took what could have been just a simple-minded action throw-away and made it into something bigger, something smarter, something special and dare I say, something timeless.

The movie’s tension level is to be studied.  Some directors get 10 minutes, 20 minutes tops.  Davis winds up the tension in the first three minutes and it doesn’t let up for the next two hours, when the movie decompresses by Tommy Lee Jones: “Richard, I know you’re innocent!”  How many directors can claim to maintain tension that long?

The opening is a rapid-fire editing job that makes JFK look subtle by comparison.  But it’s not a jumble of disconnected images, it is a master craft of cinematic shorthand that establishes a problem quickly – a murder, an arrest and a piece of misinformation that leads to a man falsely convicted of murdering his own wife.  Perhaps if that man were played by anyone else, it might have seemed easy to dismiss, but it’s Harrison Ford, a national treasure and the close-ups during the interrogation set us on an emotional trek that we will follow for the rest of the film.

And then . . . that train wreck.

Rare is it that one scene has the power to thrill an audience who has seen the film over and over again.  Rare is it to see a practical effect in these days of digital fakery.  Rare is it that a movie builds tension based on characters, motivations and not simply a collusion of edited images.  It’s exciting, and one of the great action scenes in film history.  The Fugitive turns 25 this year and rare has there been an action film that is this exciting.  Like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Bullet, Die Hard, Enter the Dragon, Jurassic Park or The Wild Bunch, this is a movie of pure filmmaking skill but also an eye on character, motivation and pure thrill.

And rare is a movie of such local flavor.  This is a movie that is very Chicago.  Perhaps that was one of the things that drew Roger Ebert to the film 25 years ago when he selected it at #4 on his ten best list that year sandwiched between far more sober offerings The Piano and The Joy Luck Club.  Davis was honored to be the first guest at Ebertfest and in his opening remarks recalled that he had the honor to speak at Roger’s memorial service.  It was a very moving moment, and then 150 people sat in the dark and got the thrill of Davis’ work all over again.

#ebertfest | #ebertchicago | #thevirginia | #wbpictures |

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
Filed in: Film Festivals