Movies aren’t just entertainment, they bring people together and speak of a world that is told through the characters we meet. Roger Ebert loved movies and is one of my biggest idols. His reviews, which I continue to watch to this day, always surprise me. The way he saw things, analyzed movies and talked about them shaped the person I am today. Every time I watch a movie, I’m always wondering, “What would Roger think of this?” I never met the legend himself, but his writing and appearances with notable film critics such as Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper continue to inspire my writing. Without them, my knowledge of movies would be nothing to what it is today.
EbertFest celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and this is my first time in attendance. I was unaware of this festival and everything that it stood for. I was amazed walking into the historical Virginia Theater and seeing a full crowd to watch the opening night film: The Fugitive. Chaz Ebert, the wife of Roger, appeared on stage first to greet the audience and introduce the twenty-year-old festival and how great it’s been since its inception. It was such a beautiful sight to see so many people in attendance and sad that I’ve never attended, perhaps I would’ve gotten to meet the most famous film critic.
Kicking off the night was the showing of The Fugitive, which turns twenty-five years old on August 6 of this year. The Fugitive was a film that I grew up with when I was little. It is the story of a well-respected doctor who is found guilty in the brutal and savage murder of his wife despite his claims of innocence. As fate would have it, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is given the chance to find the killer when the transport bus crashes and is then hit by a train in a spectacle of sheer excitement! While Kimble is out free searching for the killer, someone is on the hunt for him to take him back to prison — that is Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones).
The crowd was ready for the action, and I was ready to return to a childhood favorite of mine. Seeing a movie by yourself is simple and not the same as when you’re with a crowd. It makes all the difference. We, the audience, laughed, cheered, gasped, and roared with applause when the train collided with the prison bus. I was so excited with the audience that I screamed and clapped at the same time. It was wonderful.
For those of you that have not seen The Fugitive or heard of it, it’s a film that is a perfect example of an exceptional thriller. There isn’t a central villain when you think about it because we don’t know who the killer is and yet we root for Dr. Kimble to escape from the U.S. Marshals when the noose is getting tighter. Does this mean that U.S. Marshal Deputy Samuel Gerard is the bad guy? No, but he’s a load of fun to watch on the big screen.
Speaking of the big screen, this was my first time watching The Fugitive in theaters, and my, did it make the difference. I felt as if I were watching it for the first time. When the film was over, the audience cheered. We welcomed the director, Andrew Davis, on stage and got to engage in a Q&A with him and several film critics, which included Richard Roeper, Matt Zoller Sietz and Scott Mantz. All three of these critics were such a sight to see because I’m familiar with their work and always stay tuned to their reviews of the newest films.
I was unable to ask my question to the director, those critics beat me to it! The Fugitive is a movie adaptation of the show from the late 60s that ran for four seasons. There are numerous differences but one thing does remain, the kindness of Kimble and pursuit of the truth. I was curious as to how they approached the production stages with the thought of the show somewhat relevant in the back of their minds.
Andrew Davis offered some great insight into the production. One of the audience members wondered where the famous dam scene was filmed; “I lived here all my life and I’ve never been aware of any dams,” she exclaimed. In truth, The Fugitive was filmed in the states of Illinois and North Carolina (the bus crash and Dam sequence were filmed there). The bus and train are still there for tourists to see and take pictures! Another thing that shocked me was that the St. Patrick’s Day parade sequence was literally shot during the actual parade. They went in with cameras, didn’t block off streets and filmed that scene. That blew me away.
Some of what the critics said was noteworthy. Harrison Ford hardly speaks in the film, almost silent most of the time. I never realized that until I started to think about it. Plus, the murder, trial, and bus crash sequence happen in less than fifteen minutes into the movie. Talk about a shock to the heart and brain with all that material. Jones and Ford don’t share many scenes together, yet those are two most memorable moments throughout the film. “I didn’t kill my wife!” The audience responded correctly with the next line when Scott Mantz prompted us during the Q&A.
One thing that I wanted to ask was, “Mr. Davis, what is your favorite scene of the movie?” I find that directors have one scene, or several, that stand out to them the most. I don’t know what his response would’ve been but I do know the audiences’. Personally, the opening is the most memorable for me. The murder of Helen Kimble (Sela Ward) is filmed almost like a flashback of an actual murder you’d see watching a documentary. I love the black and white shots, just like a crime scene camera would take. Sela Ward has little screen time, but she stands out in so many ways. She isn’t flashy and is the heart of the movie. The Fugitive isn’t about wild chases and beating the bad guys up (yes it does features this), but Helen’s death is the path that Richard is on to find out who killed her and why. Nothing will stop him in pursuit of the truth.
Another great part of the movie is the interaction between Gerard and his team. Gerard is tough, doesn’t fool around and feels old-school in the way he operates. Every time the team is on the screen, my eyes lighten up and I don’t want the scene to end. Cosmo (Joe Pantoliano) is hilarious without being too much. He should’ve worn better shoes when traipsing through the tunnels. Another thing to mention is what the critics said, “The Fugitive hasn’t aged, it almost feels as if it were releasing this weekend.” There is no better way to say that. The Fugitive stills stands strong and is a high-point in Andrew Davis’ career.
Watching The Fugitive with a massive audience at a nearly sold-out show was something that I can’t put into words. It was something that you have to experience for yourself and it’s worth it. EbertFest is already keeping me interested for the next showings and interesting speakers that will be talking to us, the audience. Movies are about bringing people together, a way for a story to unfold before us and when it’s all over, we engage in our thoughts. EbertFest 2018 started out with a bang and I see nothing that will slow it down!
Stay tuned for continuing coverage.