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Blu-ray Review: U.S. Marshals

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Not to damn the film with faint praise, but U.S. Marshals really isn’t a bad movie.  Directed by Stuart Baird, the film is a follow-up to the Harrison Ford-starring The Fugitive (1993).  Neither Ford nor his character, Richard Kimble, appear in Marshals.  Instead ,the film focuses on the members of the U.S. Marshals team, chiefly Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) that tracked Kimble in the first film.

Really, that makes a good deal of sense – if you think back to The Fugitive, nearly all the best scenes in the movie feature either Ford and Jones or just Jones (“What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search…”). Why not then put Gerard and his squad up against someone else to see what happens?

If U.S. Marshals, then, isn’t well thought of, much of that may stem from the inevitable association with The Fugitive, which is an utterly fantastic film.  It is not that Marshals isn’t without faults—it has them, and some of them are bad—it is just that by not being as good it seems far worse.

Be that as it may, let us start with the problems in the film, the biggest one of which is Robert Downey Jr.’s character.  Downey plays Special Agent John Royce, a man who is assigned to work with Gerard and his team to apprehend our fugitive, a man with an assumed name, but let’s call him “Mark,” played by Wesley Snipes.  Downey performs perfectly adequately in the role, but it isn’t a very well written part.  Royce is set up as a pseudo-antagonist to Gerard, a neophyte who doesn’t belong in the field and doesn’t play with others (kind of like Gerard).   However, it’s an obvious false front and the film takes far too long to bring us to the truth of the situation.  By the time we do get there, it all feels rather obvious and far too conventional a twist to have been worth our time or the film’s effort.  U.S. Marshals features some great action and some pretty good dialogue, the twists with Royce are an unnecessary, mundane, distraction.

Better than that is Snipes’ fugitive, a man who (unlike last time) actually may have committed the crime of which he is accused, with the bigger question being exactly what took place took place.   He is far more capable of eluding Gerard than Kimble, and consequently the game of fox and mouse is enjoyable.  However, it isn’t as compelling a story as Kimble’s.

As stated, the action sequences in the film are very good, but the best part of Marshals is the relationship that Gerard had with his team, a group played by Joe Pantoliano, Daniel Roebuck, Tom Wood, and LaTanya Richardson.  It is mostly the same group from The Fugitive, and Pantoliano and Roebuck are as great here as they were there. 

The movie is really less about the case than it is about Gerard, who he is, and the camaraderie he has with his team.  That bit of The Fugitive worked there and it works here.  Think back to the moment in The Fugitive where they find out Kimble has returned to Chicago – the bit with the sound of the elevated train.  Gerard is derisive when someone says that it sounds like an el, but allows his guys to play out the idea anyway.  Once the guess pans out, Gerard deadpans taking full-credit for it.   There are more of those sorts of moments here and they are as full of heart and humor and just as intriguing here as they were there.  Gerard is, perhaps a little stereotypically, a rough and tough, no-nonsense kind of guy, but one with a (hidden) soft—and funny—inside.  He is a great character and deserves to have gotten this movie.  And, most importantly, Jones is brilliant and gripping in the movie.

So, no, U.S. Marshals never reaches the absurdly great heights of The Fugitive and certainly trades a lot both on that film and others in the genre, but it is still worth one’s time.  The plight of Snipes’ character won’t stick with you as Kimble’s did, but rather than turning on the fugitive, this piece turns on the marshals and there it works.  Despite running more than two hours, it is a taut film with little extraneous material, and it remains interesting nearly throughout.

U.S. Marshals takes place in a number of different settings and the new Blu-ray release makes them all look quite beautiful, whether it’s an underground parking garage, a verdant swamp, or the offices of the Marshals.  The print is clean, full of detail, and sports good black levels.  Grain hasn’t been removed in the cleaning of the film, and close-ups of faces show an incredible number of pores and (sometimes) wrinkles.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is equally good, faithfully reproducing the necessary environmental sounds to go with whatever the location might be.  It is, happily, well-mixed – with no one getting too exuberant just because there’s a big crash or a gun shot.  However, those crashes and gun shots sound great, panning and filling the sound field as necessary.

Unfortunately, the extras on the disc are exceptionally minimal.  There is a not terribly great audio commentary from Baird, a theatrical trailer, and a series of clips about U.S. Marshals in films which is more of an advertisement than anything else.  The only true featurette on the film itself is a multi-part one which details a plane crash set piece from the film.  We get to see the crash prepared for and carried out from multiple points of view and multiple teams working on the film.  It is certainly interesting, but it really doesn’t satisfy the desire to know what took place to bring the movie to the big screen.  One imagines that if this single behind the scenes piece exists there must be more about the film as a whole. 

I will say it one last time – U.S. Marshals isn’t The Fugitive, but if you’re not trying to draw that comparison, you’re going to like what you see here.  It is a very enjoyable, very good, example of the genre.  

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.