Wesley Snipes steps in for Harrison Ford, but Tommy Lee Jones gets the spotlight.
Based on the popular 1960s TV series, the 1993 remake of the action thriller The Fugitive was a resounding critical and commercial success netting over $368 million worldwide as the third highest grossing film of the year.
This is in part due to the masterful directing of Andrew Davis and solid action/suspense writing of David Twohy and Jeb Stuart – but honestly mostly on the undeniable screen power of stars Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones and Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard.
However, when it came time for Hollywood to do its thing and try to capitalize again by making the same product twice, it created something almost identical, but also actually pretty ultimate and awesome on its own – U.S. Marshals (1998).
And while The Fugitive will always be the fan favorite for many (as it probably should), here are three tightly constructed counter-arguments as to why U.S. Marshals is the true more ultimate option for any Friday night VHS (or whatever streaming service you choose) selection.
1) Tommy Lee Jones’ Time to Shine
The great Tommy Lee Jones has had one of the richest action careers in the history of cinema (action or non-action). And while his role was rich and awesome in The Fugitive (and, you know, won him an Oscar for best supporting actor and everything), it’s in U.S. Marshals that the man real gets to shine as Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard.
It’s really more interesting in a way to have Gerard as the main character in the film, with the more familiar “wrongfully accused hero” character as the supporting role (more on Snipes’ performance later).
Jones is 100% the epitome of righteous vengeance in a way more wholesome than Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and more congeally than Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey. Even when they try to dirty him up in the early parts of the film, you know Gerard is always in command of any situation and on the side of all that is good and ultimate.
2) Wesley Snipes Over Harrison Ford
There was a time, before a tarnished reputation and prison sentence for tax evasion, that Wesley Snipes was the fresh face of action movie future. In many ways, casting Snipes as a mystery hero figure in U.S. Marshals was a genius move as really gives audience a real responsibility to figure out whether or not he is a villain or a true hero.
In most movies – especially action ones – your heroes and villains are cut and dry and you know it from the jump. And Snipes has shown he has the chops for both roles as hero (Blade) and villain (Demolition Man).
But unlike Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble who we know to be off similar ilk to his hunter Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, we’re left to wonder just who this Mark J. Sheridan guy is and if he’s a real threat to Jones… Or if he isn’t, then who is?
3) Robert Downey Jr. Gets What He Deserves
Filmed at the height of Robert Downey Jr.’s bottoming-out drug problems, the embattled actor portrays Special Agent John Royce who – SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT – turns out to be the double agent bad guy at the end. And it’s great and the perfect fit.
Especially in the world of action movies, character’s which Downey Jr. usually portray are not to be idolized or trusted. This is doubly true up against Jones’ Gerard, who further juxtaposes himself in his blue jeans and Budweiser scenes against Downey’s stiff white bureaucratic collar.
It’s phenomenal stuff as both Downey and Snipes serve to make Jones – who in most of his career is indeed a super solid and awesome supporting actor to love interests or bigger stars – to make him the strong arm of the law and a rare, refreshing ride where we know we’re in good, safe hands the whole time.
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