Harrison Ford’s slurred, lurching performance at tonight’s Golden Globes ceremony only prepares us for the message this Friday’s Extraordinary Measures is about to ram home: Harrison Ford is done.
It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. His return to the role of Indiana Jones was at times squirm-worthy, losing all the swagger and charm of the character and replacing it with low fiber grumpiness and almost palpable prostate enlargement. It isn’t that Ford is old (although he really, really is), as we’ve enjoyed many of our finest actors getting old. It’s just that he simply doesn’t give a shit, and I’m not even sure why he’s even showing up anymore.
There may be some younger readers who don’t even get why Ford was ever a big deal in the first place. I hate to say that you had to be there, but maybe you did, seeing Ford as the rogue with that gleam in his eye in the Star Wars movies and as the rascally archeologist in the Indiana Jones films before words like irascible and cantankerous seemed most apropos to describe his characters. Ford would get comedically flustered at times in those roles, but now he gets irritable and cranky.
The signs have been there for a long, long time. Ford’s never been one to work a lot; he made only a handful of films in the 80s that weren’t part of his famous franchises. Most of those range from the good to the very good, but once he got to the 90s it was like he hit a brick wall. Presumed Innocent is terrible, and the less said about Regarding Henry the better. There’s pleasure to be found in his Jack Ryan movies, but nothing that nears greatness, and looking back at it I would say that The Fugitive is the man’s last unabashedly very good movie (arguments for the greatness of The Fugitive can be made below in the comments). A more charitable man might include Air Force One as a great Ford movie, but I’m not a charitable man. While there’s entertainment value in Air Force One it’s not a particularly good film, and it really defines the downward spiral of the rest of Ford’s career.
First of all, Air Force One is the movie that solidifies Ford’s acting style as ‘crotchety’ (note: he could have actually solidified this in The Devil’s Own, but that movie has slid off my brain like a stripper off a pole, leaving behind only an unpleasant oily residue. I have almost no memory of the movie except really disliking it). He plays President Grumpus and his trademark “GET OFF MY PLANE!” is too close to demanding kids off his lawn for comfort. But more than that, the scene plays as an unintentional laugh line, opening the door for Ford as a joke – something he’s finally truly become with Extraordinary Measures.
It’s here that Ford’s career stood at a crossroads. Even after making the truly horrific Six Days Seven Nights he could have come back if he had agreed to the one correct role. He could have fixed all the damage he had done over the past few years by simply saying yes to one project. All he had to do was agree to star in Soderbergh’s Traffic and I think we’d be having a very different conversation about the actor today. But he didn’t, and Michael Douglas took the role and Ford went on to make Random Hearts and What Lies Beneath.
And so we come to the 21st century. For the past ten years Ford’s name has been essentially a reason not to go see a movie. I admit that the day I saw Ford on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in full Indy gear my heart skipped a beat. And looking back I think I was overly kind to the movie, trying to find something pleasant in a film that really was simply a tragic mess.
What’s sad about Ford isn’t just that he’s choosing to star in terrible movies, it’s that he’s terrible in them. The man’s films earned a lot of money – for him and for Hollywood – and I think he’s come to see the whole business as a way to finance his woodsman life in Jackson Hole. He has been half-assed for decades now, declining to put any effort into his parts. And when he’s doing public appearances the guy often seems to be confused or dazed or loaded.
I don’t think Ford’s a bad guy. I think he has a lot of interests outside of movies that keep him busy and fulfill him. I don’t think that being a movie star is really something that’s as appealing to him as we, his fans, would like it to be. The other day Drew McWeeny from HitFix told me he liked that Ford seemed to be moving in to the Elder Spencer Tracy phase of his career, but Tracy – when he worked – really worked. Tracy spent his last breaths on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and his acting work seemed important to him. The same simply can’t be said for Harrison Ford.
Watching a Harrison Ford performance now is like watching a man daydreaming about being back home and building a cabinet or getting stoned or flying a plane over a deeply wooded mountainside. Those are all great ways to spend your time, and maybe instead of showing up on the sets of awful movies and giving his minimal effort, Ford should just stay at home and do those things. See, we’re at another turning point, like in 1999, only it’s more dangerous. Ford’s on the verge of turning into a full-fledged joke, and if he does, he’ll be tarnishing everything he ever did that was fun and real and cool. The decision on what Harrison Ford’s legacy is rests only in the hands of Harrison Ford. In the meantime, here’s a glimpse at one possible future: