“The Fugitive” stars Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble, whose wife Helen (Sela Ward) is murdered in the opening credits by a mysterious one-armed man, and who — thanks to circumstantial evidence and the inherent injustices of the American criminal justice system — is promptly convicted and sentenced to execution. While in transit, his prison bus runs off the road and onto a railroad track, and Dr. Richard Kimble (having already been railroaded enough thank you very much) escapes in the wreckage, determined to bring his wife’s killer to justice.
The problem is, unlike the incompetent police officers Kimble encounters, Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, who won an Oscar for this performance) is a profoundly skilled and bullish lawman. With a crack team of capable marshals — played by a veritable parade of beloved character actors like Joe Pantoliano, L. Scott Caldwell, and Daniel Roebuck — Gerard is determined to hunt Kimble down, whether the doctor is guilty or not, because that’s the deputy marshal’s job. And nobody does his job better than Sam Gerard.
“The Fugitive” is based on a TV series that ran for four seasons from 1963 to 1967. It was a monster hit and enormously influential. The series finale helped establish the very concept of having a series finale in the first place, actually wrapping up all of the show’s storylines. It was such an event that, as of this writing, it’s still one of the highest-rated TV broadcasts ever, with 78 million viewers. That’s more than most Super Bowls.
Andrew Davis’ film faithfully adapts the show, adding a twist to the mystery’s conclusion but capturing the hero’s almost self-destructive decency — he can’t stop himself from being a good doctor, even if helping someone will probably get him caught — and the show’s pervasively paranoid aura. Any moment could suddenly explode into a life-or-death chase, with Gerard hot on Kimble’s heels. It often does.