The Fugitive (1993), written by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy, is a classic. Let’s jump right into the analysis.
It’s worth noting that The Fugitive franchise has a long history, going back to the early 60s.
- Draft Read: “Early Draft – February 1992”
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 132
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Various cities in Pennsylvania, Boston, Massachusetts
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple months
- Genre(s): Detective, Thriller
- Theme(s): Justice, Love, Medicine
- Protagonist Change: Minimal
Let’s start with the obvious: This is an early draft far different from the completed film. Interestingly, the first act (up until the train crash) reads very similar to the final movie, at which point the script goes off track (pun absolutely intended).
I’ll go one step further and say that every change between this draft and the final film is the correct one. In other words, such changes are an improvement over this version of the script. Examples? I’ll share.
Pacing. Pacing. Pacing. It’s a thriller, so it needs to keep us at the edge of our seats, and it does so perfectly. You’re probably familiar with the train crash scene, but how about some of the other ones. A great one occurs on Page 71 where a store clerk informs Kimble, the protagonist, that Mr. Sykes, the one-arm-man Kimble is after, just left the story. A frantic Kimble then has to chase after him. It’s too long to transcribe here, but it’s worth a read.
None to note.
For all the positives I give this script in regard to pacing, some of the story tactics (better term?) become repetitive. Like any good detective story, Kimble is caught in two cases of cat and mouse. He’s the cat with Sykes the mouse with the Marshalls. That’s fine, but it becomes numbing when every scene involves some sort of chase. So the writers change things up by creating false alarms. For example, when Kimble and Adele are at an isolated cabin, here’s what happens (Page 85):
You’re a lot like her.
Sometimes I wonder just how much.
EXT. HUNTING CABIN – GATE – EARLY MORNING
CLOSE ON padlock of the “No Trespassing” gate. Suddenly bolt-cutters snap the lock in half.
Kimble reaches for the handle — and stops, sensing energy around him.
Inside the car, Adelle cocks her head. “What is it?” Now Kimble turns and spots….
A man with a rifle.
The RIFLE CHOCK-CHOCK-CHOCK. A white-tail buck bounds away.
If it isn’t clear, the intruder wasn’t the U.S. Marshalls coming after Kimble, rather it was a few poachers. False alarm.
But here’s the issue: Coupled with its location in the script (65% of the way through it), the frequent uses of false alarms up to this point (boy who cried wolf), and knowing that if Kimble were surrounded he would be toast, the scene’s an obvious false alarm before it even gets going. Plus… it also included the weak/oblivious woman trope and uses the adverb suddenly, the latter a pretty obvious example of telling and not showing. In other words, meh screenwriting.
The climax is poor, which I will address next in the plot section.
How should this film end? Well, the two subplots (Kimble vs. Sykes and Kimble vs. the law) have to converge to create a more powerful climax. And that’s what happens. The problem? Kimble doesn’t save the day. But Kimble is supposed to be the hero. He needs to save the day!
But he doesn’t. U.S. Marshal Gerard does, by coming out of the blue and shooting St. Claire (the villain) at the last moment. Not great, but there’s a chance to save this scene. Let’s look at it. Background: Kimble is trying to stop St. Clair from killing Adelle (If I recall, the sister of Kimble’s dead wife) (Page 130):
He (Kimble) looks up powerlessly to see…
St. Claire reaching the edge of the fissure — and stepping off.
BAM, BAM, BAM!
Astonishment registers on St. Claire’s shattering face: Bullets are catching him in the head and shoulders, checking his forward inertia.
BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM!
He totters at the edge for an impossibly long beat — before the impacting bullets drive him back.
BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM!
Already dead, St. Claire somesaults back into the darkness. Adelle falls to the ground. Untouched.
Gerard lowers his P9. He crosses the bridgework with stalwart feet and reaches down, offering his hand. To Kimble, the hand seems to stretch from heaven itself.
INT. COAL YARD – ELEVATOR DEPOT – NIGHT
Aboard the elevator, Gerard steps in front of Kimble, shielding him from the mob of cops.
Put it down.
I said, put the guns down. It’s over here.
One by one, weapons fall.
Kimble helps Adelle off the elevator. She’s conscious now but disoriented, a hasty dressing press to her head.
And then the three of them drive off in the cruiser.
So what’s the fix? Well, Kimble should have saved the day by saving the dying Adelle. He’s a doctor for crying out loud. Then he would have been redeemed and so would Gerard.
The one-armed-man. A classic character. Overall, all of the characters are well thought out. Perhaps the one odd one is St. Claire. It’s no surprise he was removed (or changed) in the film.
Dialogue & Pacing
Generally speaking, I thought the dialogue was strong; tight, and genuine. Many of the moments involving Kimble were very intimate. Some of the lines did feel a little soapy. For example, Page 114 Adelle begs Richard to leave town and adds, “I just don’t want anyone else to die.” While genuine, it comes across as somewhat out-of-touch and falls into archetypical emotional female supporting cast member.
No additional notes on pacing.
The fight for justice is the story of basic human interaction. For as long as man has existed there have been disputes. And we like to think there is clearly defined right and wrong.
Alright, stepping off my soapbox. It’s definitely an impactful script. There were probably points in which it could have gone deeper (specifically in regard to critiquing society), but the writers kept Kimble laser focused on his quest to clear his name at all times.
If I recall correctly, in the film the bad guy is a doctor who takes money from the drug industry and in turn downplays a drugs danger… a much stronger villain in my opinion.
Best Part of The Script
As noted, the first act is great. The train crash is the best part. It’s thrilling.