One of The Force Awakens’ many strengths was seeing Harrison Ford, 32 years and dozens of films later, returning to the role of Han Solo without a skipped beat. Age is only a factor in time—his dedication to the action sequences, swagger, and overall performance more than justified the ubiquity that Ford cemented in Hollywood between Return of the Jedi and the new film.
As The Force Awakens approaches $900 million domestic—which it should reach next month, if not next week—Ford has retaken the crown of the highest grossing actor in the United States from another Star Wars actor and his Patriot Games costar, Samuel L. Jackson. Most of that heavy lifting came between the last two Star Wars films, with three Indiana Jones entries, two stints as Jack Ryan, and enormous summer blockbusters like The Fugitive and Air Force One proving the most famous and lucrative. His collaborations with directors such as Peter Weir, Roman Polanski, and Mike Nichols reaped widespread critical success and showed his range as a leading man. While those latter films never made Star Wars money, Ford’s presence has been an exponential boost to box office receipts.
That’s the case with a film I just watched for the first time recently, Presumed Innocent. A virtually predetermined hit in 1990 due to Ford’s star power and Scott Turow’s worldwide best-seller as source material, much of the film’s power comes from various facets. There’s the riveting plot, which makes killer use of a nonlinear timeline in a pre-Tarantino landscape. The supporting cast is unstoppable—Brian Dennehy, Bonnie Bedelia, John Spencer, Paul Winfield, Greta Scacchi and especially Raul Julia (who should have made awards short lists for this) eat up every bit of scenery they can with grace. Recently-minted Oscar winner Sydney Pollack produces, while director Alan J. Pakula makes a triumphant comeback in the dramatic thriller zone that gave him legend status in the’70s—and that’s not including the erstwhile Blade Runner.
Presumed Innocent could have gone a lot of ways with casting its protagonist, Rozat “Rusty” Sabich, a family man and prosecutor whose torrid affair with a colleague ends in her murder and his trial. Considering the popularity of Turow’s book, it’s the sort of role that likely had most of Hollywood’s leading men inquiring about, where miscasting could have been easy. Go too young, risk being too cavalier. Skew old, distract the audience with the age gap between his female costars. At 48, Ford was perfect for the role and he gives one of his most vulnerable turns here. He plays Sabich as a white knight who exploits his armor to hide his moral ambiguity, and while far from villainous, Sabich is blunt about how his hypocrisy could undermine him.
This was Ford’s follow-up to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which, examining his filmography, was a diversion after a string of non-genre prestige films kick-started by Witness. In spite of that, leaping from Indy to a legal hotshot with a troubled conscience is a stark comparison, considering the graphic sex scenes and cunning acts of self-preservation that Sabich appears in. Pakula toning down the potential of sleaze is a major advantage, but on a critical and commercial level, the greatest strength of Presumed Innocent is that more than being a successful adaptation of a beloved novel, it’s a Harrison Ford vehicle—a perfect storm of both, but Ford’s name is the higher benchmark.
Presumed Innocent is a great legal noir that somehow got lost in time despite its success, one not worthy of rediscovery but of reemphasis. It hits a sweet spot of classiness and gray ethics that feels familiar to modern hits like Gone Girl and serves as a reminder of Ford’s importance.
A lot like Kurt Russell, he’s been content pulling in supporting work, and in all fairness, The Force Awakens was that. Ford turns 74 this year. He shows no sign of slowing down, and if his Han Solo reprisal is any indication, he won’t… especially with Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner sequel gearing up. A fifth Indiana Jones film is not confirmed, but with Spielberg game to do it and his old cohort Kathleen Kennedy running Lucasfilm, it feels inevitable. The action-star side of Ford is rejuvenated and welcomed, but bringing back the steady equilibrium of his legendary characters and his skillful Everyman persona would be a divine reinforcement—as long as he keeps pointing his finger.
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