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By all rights, U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) should not be a hero in this picture. He is relentless in his pursuit of an innocent man, Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford). When he tells the cops, "Your fugitive's name is Doctor Richard Kimble," he gives a sarcastic head bob on the word "Doctor." He orders phonetaps on Kimble's friends. When Kimble tells him, "I didn't kill my wife!," his response is "I don't care!" Even after he suspects Kimble is innocent, he still tries to kill him, and would have if not for bullet-proof glass. And yet almost immediately we are interested in this man, fascinated by him, cheer for him. Tommy Lee Jones winds up stealing the picture away from Harrison Ford, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and starring in a sequel, U.S. Marshals. How?
David N. Twohy
Tommy Lee Jones
L. Scott Caldwell
Academy Award Nominations:
Best Film Editing
Best Sound Effects Editing
Best Musical Score
Best Supporting Actor (Jones)
Gerard's smart, tough, and relentless. And he's cool. When he arrives at the site of the train wreck/prison break and is dismissed by a spotlight-loving sheriff, his response is a sad-eyed but willful "Okay." He knows he still holds the power, he just hasn't chosen to exercise it yet.
He's both father and mother to his team. He tells a subordinate who was recently held hostage, "I-don't-bargain," but still drapes a coat over the boy's shoulders, all the while sad-eyed and wearing a ridiculous old pilot's cap (the kind Snoopy wore as the "WWI Flying Ace").
He's anti-media, ignoring the press even as other cops seek the spotlight. There's an awareness of the gravity of his position when he kills an escaped con he isn't triumphant yet among friends he brags. "Let that be a lesson to you, boys and girls," he says. "Don't ever argue with the big dog."
Then there's his team, who mix good work and good banter. The boys mother the only woman in the group (L. Scott Caldwell). They bring along the newest member, Noah Newman (Tom Wood), who subtly changes from being in the big dog's doghouse ("Think me up a chocolate donut with some of those little sprinkles on it!") to gaining his respect ("Don't you let them give you any shit about your pony tail, you hear?"). Little details count. After passing a Chicago St. Patrick's Day parade, Henry (Johnny Lee Davenport), a black Marshal, asks Gerard if he's Irish, and Gerard, distracted, responds, "No. You?," and Henry says "No" without amusement, almost disgusted, as if it's a stupid joke he's heard one too many times.
What I don't understand is how this film could have been made with the cooperation of the Chicago Police Department, because it makes them look really, really bad. They immediately suspect and incarcerate the wrong man. When he escapes they call him a scumbag. Near the end of the film they start shooting at him indiscriminately. "He's going down," they say. To make matters worse, the real killer is an ex-cop. So is the Chicago Police here incompetent or corrupt? Neither looks good on a resume.
As for the star of the film? None of his good deeds go unpunished. He tries to save his wife and is convicted for murder. He saves a little boy in the hospital and is nearly caught by a bitchy doctor (Julianne Moore). The ending is weaker than the rest of the film the climactic fight should have been with the one-armed man (Andreas Katsulas) rather than Dr. Nichols (Jeroen Krabbe) but the first three-quarters are just an excellent, character-driven action film.
December 7, 1998
© 1999 Erik Lundegaard