In the build up to the release of Blade Runner 2049 [read our review here], Tom Jolliffe looks at the essential films of the key cast, starting with Harrison Ford…
A long, varied and fine career has seen Ford become iconic in two franchises in particular (and indeed the upcoming reprise of Rick Deckard could well make that another).
Throughout the 80’s he became firmly established as the ultimate blockbuster icon. No one has quite hit such iconic and consistent status as Harrison Ford. We’re talking Han Solo and Indiana Jones. One beloved franchise character is something every star dreams of, but to get two, on top of all the other great roles he’s had? That’s astonishing.
So in celebration of Ford, and in no particular order, here are the five films that need to be watched to best appreciate the man’s gifts and star power.
Ford is well-considered as a magnetic star but perhaps hasn’t always had enough credit as a thespian. He’s not just about effortless charisma and roguish charm, he’s a great actor too. Witness received his one and only Oscar nomination for this role. In truth he’s never been hugely associated with “Oscar fare” but Witness was an interesting film and a step away from his larger than life heroism with whips or lasers.
Ford plays a cop sent to an Amish town to protect a boy who is sole witness to a murder. The film deals with culture clash well and there is still due time for Ford to be suitably heroic and save the day. It’s one of his best performances and he’s able to take center stage and not become overshadowed.
Which takes us nicely to…
This could well be regarded as something of a bittersweet film for Ford. It’s a brilliant film. It’s engaging, tense, exciting and well paced. Ford is superb. In fact I think it’s possibly his best performance. I’d go as far as saying he digs even deeper than in Witness. However there was a stumbling block. It was a Tommy Lee Jones shaped stumbling block.
Jones as the Marshall tasked with capturing Ford’s wrongly convicted fugitive, storms into the film, chews up every scene magnificently, completely steals the film and waltzes off with all the Oscar attention. In fact, Jones won the Oscar that year and Ford was completely overlooked.
With great set pieces, memorable moments and a committed cast, this is just pure cinema. It’s not particularly a classic and perhaps has become a little forgotten over time but this is how they used to make top-notch blockbusters.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
This is my Fedora pick for Ford. The first Indiana Jones outing (In release terms. Technically, Temple of Doom was a prequel to this). The first three were all great but Raiders really did set the bar of this kind of rollicking stunt filled adventure film. It was pure old school and freshly vibrant at the same time. Never has a character been so perfectly crafted to fit an actor and vice versa. Ford as Jones is perfection. Like an expertly tailored glove, it’s as close a fit as you’ll ever get (and on a par with the soon to be mentioned other icon).
What made Ford so great in these films too, aside from the star power and charm, was his physicality. Ford sells the physical elements brilliantly. It’s not just that he gets involved in a good amount of stunt work himself, but he sells action. He sells a fight. We buy when he’s the underdog in a fight and uses wile to get out of the situation. As far as Indy’s leading ladies too, Ford definitely had the most chemistry with Karen Allen.
As far as Sunday afternoon family film get together, there are few better choices than Raiders of the Lost Ark. It almost seems to be on TV on a Bi-Monthly basis, and always over Christmas time, but it locks you into your chair when you stumble on it.
The Empire Strikes Back
This is my laser pick for Ford. He’s great every time he’s played Han Solo (except maybe The Star Wars Holiday Special). Star Wars was a pure space adventure, full of enjoyment and heart. It was superb and it was the blueprint by which all modern blockbusters were born.
The Empire Strikes Back took everything that was great about the first film and added another layer. Darkness, complexity and power, it’s an exceptional film. This also has Solo’s best arc and his departure in the film is legendary.
A totally and utterly amazing piece of film-making all round. This was where suddenly, Han Solo had no escape plan. His fate was inevitable. What else can I say about The Empire Strikes Back? The film speaks for itself.
I can’t have an essential Harrison Ford piece, in the build up to Blade Runner 2049 and not include the original film. Firstly, it’s my favourite film of all time. Secondly I have a film degree so I know what I’m talking about (I think).
As far as Science Fiction cinema goes, Blade Runner is a masterpiece, ranking as one of the most influential in cinema history. From the production design, set design, to the visual fx, to the fashion and to the stylistic fusions of Vangelis’s unique and enveloping score, it has influenced everything from music, fashion and most pertinently, film.
Ford stars as Deckard, a bounty hunter tasked with “retiring” a group of rogue replicants. The film pulls you into this world wonderfully. It’s a fully immersive experience. Scott’s perfectionist approach to the minutest detail for everything in the film (A level of perfectionism not matched in the modern age that the likes of Scott, Gilliam and Kubrick were all renowned for). The cohesion between sound and visual is immense too.
Ford’s low key, morally obtuse role is far from the atypical hero he’s so well-known for. Even the laconic Solo, who doesn’t play by the rules is still inherently heroic. Deckard’s character is complex, interesting and deeply flawed. He’s clearly beaten down by his line of work but runs on obligatory fumes. There’s no personal reward for what he does, it merely ebbs away more and more of his humanity. Something that he rediscovers through meeting Rachel, but indeed through his salvation at the film’s climax. There’s a beautiful moment in the rain, after Batty ( exquisitely portrayed by Rutger Hauer) where Deckard finally understands what it is to be human, whether it’s biological or bio-mechanical. I could easily watch Blade Runner once a week for the rest of my days. Beautiful, haunting, poetic, philosophical and a literal and metaphorical work of art.
Honourable Mentions: The Last Crusade and Temple of Doom of course. A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger (Ford remains the best Jack Ryan), Frantic, Air Force One and indeed Ford had smaller roles in classics such as American Graffiti, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation.
Next Up: The Essential Ryan Gosling.