Sunday, June 12, 2011

Harrison Ford and the Raw Deal

For over a decade, Harrison Ford held the distinction of being the biggest grossing star in Hollywood. That position is now held by Samuel Jackson, but it took more than twice as many movies for him to get there. Ford still has the highest average film gross of any actor (although Tom Hanks isn't far behind). Ford has done something that actors are very rarely able to do; he has become, not one, but two, iconic characters. Almost three, but the Jack Ryan movies never quite became the franchise it was expected they would become (and possibly would have if Alec Baldwin hadn't dropped out after Red October).

He's Han Solo and Indiana Jones; how could he possibly be getting any kind of raw deal? The problem is that he has done that specific job too well. He is so much the rough and tumble action hero that audiences have become incapable of seeing him as anything else. They just won't accept him in any other type of role.

There was excessive grumbling when Regarding Henry came out in 1991. It underperformed, and people blamed it on Ford. The truth is is that he did a fine job in that movie, but people didn't want to see him in that role, so he was attributed with a bad performance. He tried Sabrina. It was felt that Ford was the Bogart of his time, so he would be perfect for the role, but audiences didn't accept him in that role, either. Audiences began screaming with the release of Six Days Seven Nights. There was no lovable scoundrel  in Quinn Harris; in fact, audiences generally felt the character of Quinn was unlikeable, and the film barely broke even. And despite doing well at the box office, I remember the horrified wails that accompanied What Lies Beneath as people everywhere refused to see Ford as a villain. More than any other, it was, perhaps, that movie that drove the final spike into Ford's career as anything more than an action hero. Or, even, anything more than one of his iconic roles (but maybe that will change with the release of Cowboys & Aliens later this summer). Of the seven movies Ford made between Clear and Present Danger and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, only two were hits at the box office: Air Force One and What Lies Beneath. None of the three he's done since Crystal Skull have been hits.

This is unfortunate, because he does have a broader range than that of the lovable scoundrel. It's really not his fault that the American movie going audience can't separate him from his most famous roles. And, in  the end, it's their loss.

We just watched Morning Glory. This movie has a stellar cast. Not only does it have Harrison Ford, but it also has Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Jeff (does anyone even remember him?) Goldblum. They are all wonderful, and it is an excellent movie. Ford plays a washed up reporter, a former legend, the "3rd worst person in the world." Although I'm sure it wasn't intentional, the role is somewhat a parody of Ford himself. He's become a crotchety old man who can't escape what he used to be to accept what he's become. It would not have surprised me he'd slipped in "I was Han Solo!" as he gave  one of his many diatribes about his former accomplishments.

The sad part is that no one saw this movie. As a Hollywood movie, it was fairly low budget. Only $40,000,000. Yes, that's low in Hollywood terms. Scary, I know. It didn't make a profit. By a lot. Didn't come close. But it was so good, and Ford was... actually, he was spectacular. He played the role to perfection. They all did. Possibly, if Rachel McAdams had slightly more drawing power, people would have gone to see it for her, but that didn't happen. In fact, Ford's non-iconic star has fallen so far, that McAdams got top billing for the movie.

We talk frequently about entertainers only being capable of doing particular types of things, and, sometimes, that's true. More often than not, though, I think it's not true. We've just decided that they are only capable of particular types of roles, certain kinds of movies, specific genres of novels, and we, the audience, won't allow these people out of the boxes we've put them in. I mean, Kevin Smith tried to break away from his formula, partially due to criticism that he was a one-trick pony, and he produced Jersey Girl, a great movie that no one saw, because it wasn't want his fans wanted.

We trap these people into "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations. Granted, some of them are quite satisfied with the boxes they get put in. Michael Bay comes to mind. He's good at what he does, and he seems satisfied with that. For now. But what if he decides that he wants to make a "serious" movie. To prove that he can do more than blow things up. No, I'm not saying I believe he's capable of more than that, but I'm also not saying that I believes he's not.

If you haven't seen Morning Glory, I suggest you give it a shot. Forget, as you should, that it's Harrison Ford. Don't think about Han Solo or Indiana Jones or, even, Jack Ryan. Think about Mike Pomeroy. Allow him to be that character. I think you'll be surprised and find that he's more than capable of filling those shoes, too.


  1. I think that much of an actor's success in Hollywood comes from making the right friends of Hollywood Directors. Ford very quickly got to be friends with both Spielberg and Lucas who had/have the power to make a star of anyone if they want to. Tom Cruise also ingratiated himself to Spielberg and Leonardo di Caprio became Martin Scorcese's buddy. Then we have Johnny Depp who is best friends with Tim Burton... You can always tell the actors that don't make these connections. It is much harder for them to command huge salaries and they have to put in a lot more work. Gene Hackman comes to mind as someone that failed to make these types of "connections".

  2. Most of the movies you mention just weren't very good. The Fugitive and Presumed Innocent were two non-franchise hits, he's capable of them. Morning Glory isn't very good either, you can see from the trailer alone it's a by the numbers movie you've seen many times before and even his role is very cliched.

    You also have to bear in mind that his iconic status means his face can sell movies abroad and on video, so even the lacklustre ones make a profit (although probably not according to the studio books) so he can make what seem like duds and still turn a pretty penny for himself and his masters.

  3. Debra Dixon refers to The Fugitive in her Goal, Motivation, Conflict seminar, as well as her book. One of the best to watch if you're looking to study multi-character GMC. As for Morning Glory, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The entire cast did a fantastic job, and Mr. Ford performed his character to a T. Loved the way he redeemed himself at the end. :)

  4. Being typecast can be the kiss of death for an actor. You didn't mention my favourite role of Ford's, Dekard in Blade Runner.

  5. oh my gosh, i have so many thoughts rambling through my head right now that i'm not sure if any of them will come across coherently. I LOVE HARRISON FORD. I've loved him since Star Wars. I've loved him since Indiana Jones (though the 4th was a wee bit painful for me to watch), and I've loved him since. I actually really enjoyed him in Clear and Present Danger and I really liked his work in several other roles he's done over the years. But one of my faves that you didn't mention was The Fugitive. I LOVED LOVED LOVED that movie. I thought the movie was fantastic and I thought he was fantastic in it. I haven't seen Morning Glory, but will check it out. I personally don't think Harrison Ford has ever had a bad perform performance though some of the movies he has done may have been up to par with his abilities and skills as an actor. But, most actors have that "one movie" that just doesn't work. And let's not forget how Harrison Ford even stumbled into the business! What a great story that is, hey?

  6. Michael: I'm not sure if I agree about Hackman. He's been in so many huge movies, including playing Lex Luthor in the original run of Superman movies. I think he must have plenty of connections.

    mood: Actually, my point is that his "lackluster" movies haven't made a profit which, kind of, goes against expectations. Anything that came out during the 80s with his name on it did well, but, by the time Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan were over, it was like people decided it wasn't worth seeing him in a movie.
    From curiosity, did you see Morning Glory, or are you basing your judgement from the trailer?

    Alyssia: Yes, I was more than pleasanty surprised with Morning Glory. I really didn't expect much from it considering how poorly it did at the box office.

    Al: Well, I didn't mention Blade Runner for 2 reasons:
    1. It came out early enough in Ford's rise that people didn't really realize it was him.
    2. Despite its poor theater performance, it has become an actual sci-fi classic that has been one of the most influential sci-fi movies ever.

    Melanie: Yes, you should check out Morning Glory. He was really great. I didn't mention The Fugitive because it came out before Clear and Present Danger, and I was focusing on the movies after he ended his run of franchise films. Well, and before Skull. I have to say, I liked Crystal Skull. I appreciated what Lucas was doing with that movie more than a lot of people are able to do, I think. And >shh< I got to go to the Lucas hosted premiere and after party for it :)

  7. Gah! How could I forget about Bladerunner?!! LOVE.

  8. I was surprised that I enjoyed Morning Glory, due to its failure at the box office, but I did like it. I am one of the die hard Harrison Ford fans who will see him in any movie, but I also agree about the fans putting people in a box, which is how they get typecast. It's the viewers that make this happen, not the directors or the actors themselves. I had a hard time accepting Kevin Bacon as a bad guy, but now I see he plays that role well and he can't always be Ren from Footloose.

    There are several actors I've had a hard time seeing as villains when I'm used to them being the good guy (Harrison Ford being a big example of one, though I also liked What Lies Beneath and was, ultimately, able to accept him in the role). I watched The Vanishing last night and had completely forgotten Jeff Bridges was the bad guy. I remember first seeing it and being upset that Starman was a sociopath, ha!

    It's sad that good actors have so much to overcome to be able to enjoy different roles, when I'm sure that, as an actor, half of the fun would be playing drastically different characters. Otherwise, how dull would it be to play the same character all your life? I wouldn't want to write about the same character forever. Then again, it also means that people have loved a character they've created, which is also a compliment. Definitely a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

  9. Alyssia: Shame on you! :P

    Shannon: I love Jeff Bridges. I mean, really love Jeff Bridges. I'm glad he's finally started some of the credit he's long deserved, because, for at least the last decade and a half, I've been saying he's the most under-appreciated actor in Hollywood.

  10. I definitely agree about Jeff Bridges. I've always been a fan of his, as well.