Remember that scene near the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indiana Jones, as played by the great Harrison Ford, believes he’s outsmarted an ancient booby trap? He removes the treasure, an ancient gold idol, from a small platform and replaces it with a bag of sand of approximately the same weight. Here’s the moment to look for: satisfied that his little scheme to replace the idol with a mere bag of sand would actually work, Indiana Jones smiles and fixes his hat. For a brief moment, he’s not just relieved his scheme worked, he’s actually a bit smug about it. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Indiana Jones to realize that his trouble has just begun. Just before the booby traps go off, we see that smugness. In a fraction of a second, Indiana Jones has surpassed his own expectations of himself and is, for once, happy about it. This is all thanks to the brilliance of the actor Harrison Ford.
Today, one of the most well-known and beloved movie stars in the world, Ford celebrates his 80th trip around the sun. As Han Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy, he brought the necessary swagger to an adventure story that might have been a bit stuffy without his charm, wit, and cynicism. Luckily, the original choice for the role of Indiana Jones (Tom Selleck) had to bow out of the role. Ford stepped in and made the character iconic. Throughout the 80s and 90s, there were few, if any, movie stars that were as well-known and as engaging in dramatic fare as they were in genre pictures as Ford. He sold the majority of his performances on honesty.
In action films, this regular-sized man seemed intimidated when going against larger or more skilled opponents. When in dramatic situations, he teetered on the edge of breaking down, but he would somehow find the necessary resolve. Ford’s best performances often depended on his ability to emote; the audience could simply look at his expressions and know exactly what he was thinking in each scene.
In “The Fugitive,” his character, Richard Kimble, spends the entire film alone and on the run, and Ford has to show Kimble facing each new challenge while rarely getting a chance to talk at length with anyone. By contrast, his adversary, Marshall Samuel Gerard, is able to maintain pursuit with a handful of other marshalls to bounce ideas off of.
Ford has continued to work and effortlessly has reprised roles such as Han Solo, Rick Deckard (Blade Runner 2049), and even Indiana Jones, with the swan song for the character expected to come out to theaters next year. There’s an old-fashioned quality to Ford’s style of acting: he always keeps the audience’s attention squarely on him, but he never seems to be trying too hard. He has a level of charisma that is pretty rare. In dozens of roles, he seems to find just the right note to play his characters that maybe would not work in the hands of a lesser actor. In “Regarding Henry,” the role of an unlikeable upper-middle-class man who suddenly finds his inner compassion during his recovery from a near-fatal gunshot might seem a bit schmaltzy, but Ford sells it perfectly.
Ford has found his niche playing the every-man, a regular person who must weave his way through difficult situations without the aid of superpowers. Here’s to many more years to come.