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Ford Explorer: In Search of the Actor’s Finest Roles

Last week, your Webb critic honored the passing of Alan Arkin with a selection from that actor’s sprawling filmography.

In this issue, with the fifth Indiana Jones film still going strong, we’ll pay similar homage to Harrison Ford — though happily, he remains very much alive. Side-stepping blockbusters, let’s highlight 10 of Ford’s lesser-known titles — with an emphasis on performances that showcased the actor’s talent.

“American Graffiti” (1973) – With great cars, great stars and great tunes, George Lucas’s charming nostalgia piece follows a group of high-school grads on the last day of summer vacation in 1962. Ford has only a small role, but with this and the following year’s “The Conversation” (also a minor part), the actor showed a penchant for working with his era’s finest directors: Coppola, Spielberg, Polanski, Antonioni, Zemeckis, Nichols, Pollack, Pakula, Peter Weir, Denis Villeneuve and Ridley Scott.

“Witness” (1985) – A masterpiece film from Weir — and amazingly, Ford’s only Oscar nom. He plays Philadelphia detective John Book, who must protect a young Amish boy after the lad has witnessed a murder. Gorgeous John Seale photography and stirring Maurice Jarre music supplement an exciting and thoughtful story.

“The Mosquito Coast” (1986) – By no means perfect, this is nonetheless, in my opinion, Ford’s finest hour. He plays a charismatic inventor so sickened by modern-day culture that he drags his family off to Central America in hopes of starting a back-to-basics paradise. But things don’t quite turn out that way. Tough to watch as Ford’s Allie Fox spirals into megalomania, the film was again directed by Weir, scored by Jarre and lensed by Seale. Cast includes River Phoenix and Ford’s current “1923” co-star, Helen Mirren.

“Six Days, Seven Nights” (1998) – Admittedly far-fetched and not exactly a fan-fave, this colorful rom-com is kind of a go-to for me. Ford plays a crusty small-plane pilot (his hobby in real life) marooned with a spoiled and mouthy career gal (Anne Heche) on a remote Polynesian isle. Funny, exciting and romantic; co-starring David Schwimmer.

“What Lies Beneath” (2000) – This moody murder mystery was directed by Robert Zemeckis during a months-long break filming “Cast Away,” while waiting for Tom Hanks to slim down and grow a beard for the latter half of that desert-island film. Ford’s only ghost story, “Beneath” — though something different for the actor — proved a hit, earning three times its substantial budget.

“42” (2013) – Ford has a blast playing legendary Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey — the man who integrated major league baseball by bringing in the amazing Jackie Robinson in 1945. A wonderful film, with a brilliant breakout performance from the much-missed Chadwick Boseman.

“Ender’s Game” (2013) – Ford stands out with a small but vital role in this solid adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s cult-fave sci-fi novel. Cast includes Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld. Card has a voice cameo as a pilot.

“Blade Runner 2049” (2017) – Though he does not appear till the final act, Ford brilliantly reprises his role from the ground-breaking 1982 Ridley Scott sleeper. Unbelievably, this long-in-coming sequel is almost as great as its predecessor, with masterful photography (Roger Deakins finally wins an Oscar!), excellent direction (Villeneuve) and a standout cast: Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas and Dave Bautista.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” (2019) – Ford’s first and only foray into animation! Not a great film, but the actor really kicks it up a notch with terrific vocal work as the sheepdog Rooster.

“The Call of the Wild” (2020) – Again, not a perfect film, but certainly a good one, elevated by Ford’s soulful work as the owner of a tough old sled-dog during the Klondike gold rush. Based on Jack London’s classic, it was adapted by veteran Michael Green (“Logan,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Murder on the Orient Express.”). Co-starring Dan Stevens.

Well, assuming you’ve seen “Indy 5,” this should provide a decent Ford-fix till the actor reappears as Thunderbolt Ross in next year’s “Captain America” entry.