his special skills.
As director Andrew Davis says in the commentary, “The idea of Richard Kimble the doctor using hospitals to take care of his wounds, find the one-armed man, his intelligence is all tied into his being a doctor and knowing how to operate, literally operate, in a hospital.” In weaker thrillers, the falsely-accused schmuck simply transforms into a superhero as soon he goes on the run, but in this movie, the hero solves his problems in a way that is unique to his character.
But we should also acknowledge that there are many aspects of Kimble’s character that do make him seem generic and/or unengaging, and clearly violate our rules:
- He’s incredibly passive at first, both in his normal life and in the aftermath of his wife’s murder.
- He has a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment of humanity, when he mumbles that he always feels like a waiter in a tux. I had to watch the beginning twice to spot it.
- He’s not frustrated with a social problem (until he loses everything)
- Both in daily life and after the crime, he’s not especially curious about what’s really going on (and we later find they’re related). Even as late as the third act, he doesn’t really suspect that they’re a conspiracy out to get him until he’s already exposed it.
- His reactions are notably less volatile than the average person. He literally refuses to take a step in the right direction until he’s about to be run over by a train!
- This one’s always a problem in these sorts of movies: After the crime, he’s over-motivated, which means that he isn’t doing something that’s hard to want to do. It’s a tricky line, because heroes need a strong, clear and not-selfless motivation, and he certainly has that, but if you tip too far, then the hero doesn’t get to make any choices.
- He’s inarticulate and unable to convince anybody of anything verbally.
The next big factor is, of course, Ford. As with Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity, Ford’s performance obviates the need for many of the traditional likability tricks simple because he’s so effortlessly compelling. The producers submitted this script to Ford three times over five years, and he turned it down each time, so they simply kept rewriting it until they could win him over. They knew they needed his qualities.
A third factor is that Kimble’s tendency to sabotage his own cause turns out to be his secret weapon. We’ll get to that next time…