Sunday, July 13, 2014

Happy Birthday, Harrison Ford!

Today is Harrison Ford's 72nd birthday.  The minute I got online and saw that, I knew I had to post something, because I have a long history with Harrison Ford.  No, I do not know him, and have never actually seen him in person, but I know the many characters he has played over the years.  To say I have a long history with him is entirely accurate, because he was the first movie star that I ever really attached myself to.

I can remember when I was graduating kindergarden, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up so that they could say that as I went up onstage to get my diploma.  My answer to that question was, "Harrison Ford."  Now, why on Earth would that be a five-year-old boy's answer?  Because of Star Wars and Indiana Jones.  Any man who could play two of my favorite characters of all-time had to be someone worth wanting to be.

As I grew older, I knew that I didn't really want to be Harrison Ford, but he still is one of my favorite actors of all-time.  While his acting output over the past decade-and-a-half has been lackluster to say the least, back in his heyday, there was no actor better.  I still optimistically believe he has a few more great performances in him, and he's already shown signs of his old awesomeness over the past few years in films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 42, and Ender's Game.  Here's hoping that Star Wars: Episode VII will be his true return to form.  Of course, being a day of celebration for him, this isn't about his future or even his recent acting output, but about honoring his legacy.

I've decided to list my 10 Favorite Harrison Ford Performances.  These ten performances are the ones where I feel Harrison Ford exemplified why I love him as an actor so much more than any other.  While I debated long and hard about whether or not it was right to bump a few performances off the list by including multiple performances by him as the same character in sequels, I decided that in the context of each film, it was a new performance worthy of notoriety.  So join me in celebrating Harrison Ford's birthday with my favorite performances of his.


10.  Jack Ryan, Clear and Present Danger
This was Ford's second outing as CIA analyst Jack Ryan, and is perfect proof as to why I wish he could return to this role and do some of the Clancy books that dealt with an older Ryan.  Unfortunately, Hollywood wants everything to be younger and hipper, so we may never see the President Jack Ryan storyline from the novels, but we do have this film and Patriot Games as perfect representations of why I love Harrison Ford.  One of the final scenes where Ford stands in the Oval Office telling the President that he is going to reveal the President's role in a conspiracy, is one of the finer moments of Ford's acting career.  He never breaks eye contact with the President, he stands tall with bravery and devotion to his morality and to his country.

9.  Dr. Richard Kimble, The Fugitive
"I didn't kill my wife," must be uttered or shouted by Ford at least a couple dozen times in this film, and yet each time I believe him.  The Fugitive is one of those movies where Ford often gets overshadowed by the role that had the better lines, being Tommy Lee Jones as the US Marshall chasing Kimble.  The funny thing is, though, if it were not for the fear in Ford's eyes as he's on the run from the police, and for the determination he shows in the character to prove his innocence, we would not care what happens one way or the other.  He allows the audience to feel empathy for this character and to root for him to prove that he did not kill his wife.

8.  John Book, Witness
To this date, this is the only role that Ford has ever received an Oscar nomination for, and for good reason.  This is arguably one of Ford's most human, most naturalistic performances of his career.  He isn't a superhero, he's just a man trying to protect a small Amish boy who witnessed a murder.  There is a tenderness that Ford brings in the scenes between him and the boy, played by Lukas Haas, and there is a romantic side to him in his scenes with the boy's mother, Kelly McGillis, that shows a more playful side than his usual gruff exterior.  That dance scene in the barn where he sings to Kelly McGillis's character is often cited as one of the more romantic scenes in the modern era of moviemaking, and I agree.

7.  Han Solo, Star Wars
This was the role that put Ford on the map, and is really the perfect example of why so many people love him as an actor.  The cockiness, the swagger, the ability to make a character who could have very easily been unlikable, likable, all thanks to Harrison Ford making Han Solo a charming human being.  There is only one other role in Ford's entire catalogue that I think is an even greater fit for him, but more on that at number six.

6.  Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Ah, the role of Harrison Ford's career.  I could have easily filled up this entire list with his performances as Indiana Jones and Han Solo, but where would the fun be in that?  Even still, Temple of Doom is another knockout performance by Ford in his prime.  He has the charm and charisma that made him famous here, but it's in the arc for the character that really makes this film one of his finest performances.  Throughout the course of this Indiana Jones film, we see Indy go from being a man searching purely for fortune and glory, to being a compassionate human being (or as compassionate as Indy can be), saving the slave children and forgoing his fortune and glory to do the right thing.  While a good bit of this was in the writing, Ford sold this arc, and it's part of the reason why this is my favorite Indiana Jones film.

5.  Jack Ryan, Patriot Games
Looking back at this performance, you could almost call it the quintessential Harrison Ford performance.  Every trick in his book can be seen in this one movie, and yet all those tricks are so believable.  I think what I've always loved so much about Ford as Jack Ryan, is that he makes Jack Ryan this everyman who seems so unsure of himself when in action situations, which is in stark contrast to many of his other roles.  While I loved Chris Pine as the new Jack Ryan, no one will ever surpass Ford in this role, and Patriot Games, being the better of his two Jack Ryan films, gives it the higher ranking on this list.

4.  President James Marshall, Air Force One
If only there could be a real-life President as awesome as the one Ford played in this film, I would vote for him in a heartbeat.  I remember this film being the first R-rated movie I ever saw.  It had just come out on video, and my parents were going to let everyone watch it, but me.  I whined, like I so often did back then (hey, I admit it, even if I'm not proud of it), and they caved due to my love for Harrison Ford.  Now, my parents really are awesome and did monitor what I watch, but they made an exception for my seven-year-old self, though my Mom did cover my eyes and ears at rougher, or more foulmouthed parts, but as I said, I was seven.  I said all of that to iterate my nearly twenty year love for this movie, and my love for Ford in it.  Like with all of Ford's best performances, he took this role, that in lesser hands could have been an over-the-top action hero, and made it completely believable.

3.  Han Solo, The Empire Strikes Back
It's funny that Ford's performance in my favorite film of all-time only ranks at number three in my book of his best performances, but that's how the cookie crumbles.  Of course that takes nothing away from this performance, it only says more about the ones that rank higher.  However, time to get back on track.  This was Ford's shining moment as Han Solo, and it was his work here that really cemented the greatest qualities of the character for all of eternity.  As the legend goes, when Ford protested that Han would not simply say, "I love you, too," to Princess Leia when she professed her love, shows how well he knew this character.  Ford simply said what he thought Han would say, and as filmmaker Kevin Smith said in an interview one time, "And like a pimp, he said, 'I know.'"

2.  Henry Turner, Regarding Henry
Anyone who thinks that Harrison Ford is only capable of action heroes have not seen Regarding Henry.  He should have won an Oscar for this performance, because dramatically, this is some of the best work he's ever done.  In this film, he plays an attorney who has been shot in the head and has to regain not only his memory, but his speech and all of his motor skills.  This was one of the first films ever written by J.J. Abrams, and it's a perfect match between Abrams' writing, Mike Nichol's direction, and Ford's performance, to create a phenomenal film.  The way that Ford essentially reverts back to the mentality of a five-year-old for a good bit of this film, and does so in such a way that never feels like he's acting, is just truly remarkable.

1.  Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark
Okay, this is the performance of his career.  I don't think there is anyway that Ford could ever top his work in Raiders, he was just that perfect in this part, with this particular script.  Everything that Indy is supposed to be, Harrison Ford is all that and more.  He's charming, he's likable, he's the greatest movie hero of all-time.  I mean, what more can you say, other than wonder what this film might have been like had Tom Selleck been able to break his Magnum, P.I. contract and played the part instead.  That is one of the great what-ifs in movie history, and I have often wondered if the mustache would now be as iconic as the hat and whip, but the bottom line is, I don't think the film would have been the same hit it was without Ford.  While the script is amazing, and Spielberg was in tip-top shape here, the star was Ford.  He simply is Indiana Jones.  Every now and then, an actor will play a character that is more of a natural extension of themselves than even the writer's imagination that cooked the character up, and that is what happened here.

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