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Film / U.S. Marshals

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U.S. Marshals is a 1998 Spin-Off to The Fugitive (1993), directed by Stuart Baird. This was his second film, following Executive Decision (1996). Tommy Lee Jones returns to his role of Marshal Samuel Gerard. This time the "antagonist" is Wesley Snipes, and Robert Downey Jr. also co-stars.

At the start of the film a man gets involved in a traffic accident and arrested. He is identified as Mark Roberts (Snipes), a federal fugitive wanted for a double homicide in a Manhattan parking garage. He and other prisoners are transported to New York City by plane. On board is Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard, an unwelcome assignment. Gerard was recently involved in a publicized incident of police brutality, and in order to avoid bad publicity for the service, his boss has him transporting prisoners for a while. In mid-flight, one of the prisoners pulls out a concealed weapon and fires at Roberts. He misses but the bullet travels through a window and depressurizes the cabin of the plane, resulting in a plane crash.

Once Gerard recovers, he notices a single prisoner unaccounted for: Mark Roberts. Worse, the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) informs the Marshals that "Roberts" is actually Mark Sheridan, an operative of their service who murdered his fellow agents while selling state secrets to unidentified agents of another country. None of this really matters to Gerard, who really just wants to catch him. Meanwhile, Sheridan is heading to New York City on his own, intent on clearing his name.

Things become significantly more complicated almost immediately, as it turns out there's a lot more to the crime, a lot more to Sheridan, and a lot more at stake than anyone thought...

Tropes seen in US Marshals include:

  • Ambiguous Situation: Unlike in The Fugitive, where the audience knew Kimble was innocent, Sheridan's status is unclear, especially since there's footage of him committing the murders in question. It's not until nearly halfway through that we learn that he was set up and the supposed murders were an act of self-defense.
  • Artistic License: Though not as egregious as Con Air, this film depicts a Con Air flight using an airliner with a specially designed interior with cages and locks for leg irons. Real Con Air flights use chartered planes with standard airliner interiors.
  • Blunder-Correcting Impulse: The local Kentucky sheriff is attempting to set up a dragnet for the escaped Mark Sheridan, but for perfectly justifiable reasons (he's not used to dealing with escaped convicts in his jurisdiction), his plan is so inept that Gerard repeatedly interjects to offer suggestions. Eventually, the sheriff, realizing Gerard is probably the better expert in this field, asks him, "What do you think?" and Gerard immediately lays out his own plan.
  • Boom, Headshot!: How Barrows dies.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Besides the literal one mentioned below, there is an early scene of Mark Sheridan taking medicine with water on the plane. We don't learn until later that Sheridan gets motion sickness which ultimately gets him caught.
  • Chekhov's Skill: We see Mark Sheridan break his interrogator's glasses and pocket one of the arms, which he later uses on the plane to pick his handcuffs. Later, after Royce is introduced, he's shown using the exact same trick with Cosmo's sunglasses to pick his handcuffs, which foreshadows the reveal that Sheridan is a DSS operative gone rogue.
  • Clear My Name: The motivation for Mark Sheridan.
  • Cool Guns: Gerard tells DSS Special Agent John Royce (Robert Downey Jr..) to "Get yourself a Glock and lose that nickel-plated sissy pistol," referring to Royce's Taurus PT45. It becomes a major plot point (a literal Chekhov's Gun) later in the movie. note 
    • It's easy to miss, but the Kentucky State Trooper who stops the truck Sheridan is hiding in has a S&W 1006 in 10mm Auto, which was actually issued by the Kentucky State Police at the time.
  • Covers Always Lie: As it also applies to movie posters: Pro-Glock Gerard is carrying Royce's nickel-plated sissy pistol on the poster.
  • Diplomatic Impunity: A Chinese Embassy guard shoots a cop in the head and claims diplomatic immunity.
  • Disney Villain Death: The Chinese assassin on the plane and one of the other passengers go out the hole in the side of the plane. We get an unnecessarily detailed description of the result.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Frank Barrows, a quiet background character, is one of the moles.
  • Enhance Button: Subverted during the scene where the Marshals review the UN garage footage. While the team is able to zoom in using high tech equipment, the image is not enhanced and is still quite pixelated. All they can pick up are shapes of agents (able to identify because of vague body shape) and a close shot in the light shows Sheridan wearing gloves.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Noah Newman is killed in a surprise ambush that also reveals the traitor.
  • Exact Words: The Chinese hitman tells Gerard and Cosmo that the guy they're looking for is the last guy at the gym and tells them to try the shower. That is exactly where they find his body, right where the hitman left him.
  • Explosive Decompression: When a fellow prisoner tries to kill Sheridan aboard a Marshals transport plane, he instead shoots a hole in one of the windows, causing several people on board to be sucked out through the rapidly expanding breach and ultimately resulting in the plane crashing.
  • Fanservice: Kathryn Walsh, Gerard's boss. Her only apparent purpose in this film is to wear an inappropriately short skirt.
  • Fanservice Extra: Gerard's date, briefly seen with him at a party early in the film, whose entire purpose seems to be boobs.
  • Flashed-Badge Hijack: Gerard pulls this on a civilian car when he needs some wheels.
  • Foreshadowing: That there's some sort of connection between Mark Sheridan and Royce in the past becomes clear to us when we observe each of them on a separate occasion use the arms of a pair of glasses to pick the lock on a set of handcuffs.
    Cooper: I've never seen that before.
    Gerard: I have.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: In a sense. Upon reviewing tapes of the UN garage, Gerard realizes Sheridan could not possibly have been identified from crime scene evidence because the assailant was wearing gloves and the camera never shows his face. This is on top of the tapes blatantly contradicting the official narrative, but those are classified and unavailable to the public. Sheridan's former boss admits they planted the evidence hoping the police would apprehend Sheridan for them, allowing them to quietly settle the matter.
  • Go On Without Me: Sheridan's girlfriend when she realizes that he can't pull her over the wall blocking their escape.
  • Goofy Suit: In the opening scene, Gerard is shown staking out a fugitive's house disguised as a chicken mascot for a food truck. There's also the purple jacket that Renfro brings to Kentucky for Gerard to wear to replace his water-stained shirt.
  • Hairpin Lockpick: One of the prisoners opens his handcuffs this way, using the arm from a pair of glasses. It serves as Foreshadowing when Royce does the same thing.
  • He Had a Name: As Noah lies mortally wounded in an ambulance, and the EMTs work on him desperately, they say encouraging things like, "Stay with us, Buddy/Pardner/Pal." Gerard, sitting in the ambulance in the midst of a Heroic BSOD, says very quietly, "His name is Noah." The EMTs immediately switch to using his real name. Unfortunately, it doesn't help.
  • Heroic BSoD: Gerard, after Noah Newman is killed by Royce.
  • Hollywood Law:
    • Gerard gets in trouble with his boss for striking a suspect in handcuffs to subdue him during the opening sequence because he was attacking the arresting Marshals and bit one. She acts like this was a breach of protocol which he has to apologize for publicly. However, what he did was completely appropriate in those circumstances.
    • It's ignored here for Rule of Cool, but for obvious reasons, the FAA says that prisoners are not allowed to be chained to any part of an airplane.
    • Also, when the Chinese assassin asks to use the toilet the guard says to hold it and that they will be landing in 20 minutes, but in reality guards are not allowed to tell any prisoner the time frame of any transport especially when it is a federal prisoner transport.
  • I Have Many Names: Mark Sheridan has used a variety of alias surnames. Mark Warren is the name he's using when the Chicago Police arrest him on the gun charge, and Mark Roberts is the name printed on the federal arrest warrant that's out for him.
  • I Know Karate: Very downplayed, considering it's Wesley Snipes we're talking about. Apparently, a conscious decision was made to make Sheridan's fighting style much less graceful and more brawl-y.
  • Innocent Bigot: Cosmo calls the Chinese hitman a "Chinaman," which even in 1998 was a pretty outdated and offensive way to refer to a Chinese man. Nothing is made of it, and given Cosmo's overall characterization as the loudmouth boor of the team, it mostly falls under this trope.
  • It's Personal: Lampshaded by Royce:
    Royce: I thought we didn't take things personally.
    Gerard: We don't. I do.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: During their escape from the graveyard, Sheridan makes it over the wall, but Marie is not dressed for such activity and can't jump high enough for him to pull her up. With Gerard closing in fast, she gives up on trying to reach him and urges him to run.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: At one point, Gerard checks Royce's gun and gives it back to him. When Royce tries to use it on him, minutes later, it doesn't fire. Gerard had switched magazines without Royce noticing, which he points out in the following quote:
    Gerard: (takes magazine out of pocket) I've got yours, you've got mine.
  • Job Title: U.S. Marshal is the title and the organization that Gerard belongs to.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Despite the manhunt for Sheridan taking place in multiple states, there is no evidence that any US Marshal's offices other than Gerard's are involved in the chase at all.
  • Man Bites Man: In the opening scene where Gerard's team is arresting two fugitive brothers holed up in a South Side apartment, one of the brothers tries to bite Biggs on the shoulder while he's being handcuffed after engaging Biggs and Renfro in an all-out brawl.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: What got the plot kicked off is: Sheridan gets into a rollover accident in his tow truck when he swerves to avoid a distracted driver. Emergency workers arrive, and the fire department cut Sheridan from his truck and load him into an ambulance. After the extrication is complete, one firefighter discovers a gun inside the truck and hands it off to the first responding police officers. Due to Chicago's strict gun laws, the local police arrest Sheridan on an illegal weapons possession charge the moment he's released from the hospital. When fingerprinted, his prints match up with a federal arrest warrant out for him as "Mark Roberts".
  • Missed Him by That Much: One of Gerard's marshals is assigned to tail Sheridan's girlfriend Marie. He tails her to a Saks department store in New York City where she covertly meets with Sheridan inside a dressing room. The marshal waits outside, but by the time he gets an order to check the dressing room, he finds Marie all by herself. Since she's in the process of putting on a new dress, the marshal is forced to apologize and claim that he's looking for a shoplifter.
  • The Mole: It turns out that Sheridan is not the mole, but is actively looking for him right up until the end when he gives up and attempts to flee the country.
  • Mythology Gag: Several to The Fugitive, naturally. Probably the best of which is Gerard once again losing his man to what appears to be a suicidal jump. Here, at least, he actually sees Sheridan get away and doesn't have to go to the trouble to have an entire spillway dragged.
  • Oh, No... Not Again!: Upon learning that one prisoner is unaccounted for (Sound familiar?), Gerard looks off and says in bitter amusement, "Looks like we got ourselves a fugitive."
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Gerard starts to suspect there's more to Sheridan's case when a supposedly ruthless killer has gone out of his way not to kill anyone, despite hijacking multiple vehicles whose owners identify him as soon as they're released.
  • Papa Wolf: Of the Team Dad variety. Gerard regularly refers to his team as his "kids" (this was actually established in The Fugitive, making it a Continuity Nod) and he even foreshadows the Roaring Rampage of Revenge he goes on after Newman gets shot.
  • Police Brutality: Gerard gets involved in the Sheridan plot when he's assigned to the prisoner transport plane on his boss's orders, after the two brothers he arrested in the opening sequence accuse him of excessive force and police brutality. When he was being handcuffed, the larger one brother bit Biggs and Gerard responded by clocking him in the head with a shotgun, requiring 27 stitches.
  • Product Placement:
    • Sheridan's girlfriend Marie Bineaux works as a Starbucks Coffee barista.
    • This movie has pretty blatant Glock product placement. Late in the film Gerard sounds like he's reading off a commercial script for Glocks.
  • Sequel Escalation: The Fugitive had a train crash, so of course this time around, a plane crashes.
  • Shoe Phone: A zipgun disguised as a ballpoint pen is smuggled onto the plane.
  • Shout-Out: When Royce frees himself from the handcuffs, he briefly is posed in the stance Houdini used to assume when escaping from shackles and chains.
  • Stairwell Chase: This time, unlike in the previous film, Sheridan is pursued UP the stairs by Gerard and Royce.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: L. Scott Caldwell's character Erin Poole does not appear in this sequel. The character is replaced with a character named Savannah Cooper, and played by LaTanya Richardson. Aside from her, all of the other Marshals are played by their original actors.
  • Try and Follow: Sheridan jumps off the roof of a building, using a rope to swing over to the 125th Street Metro-North station, then jumps onto the departing train to evade Gerard.
  • Wham Shot: Newman enters the room where Royce and Sheridan were scuffling and witnesses Royce about to execute Sheridan with a headshot. Royce, noticing him, immediately shoots him to Leave No Witnesses, all but confirming he's the mole who set Sheridan up.
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: Played unbelievably straight, even more so than in its predecessor. In the course of proving his innocence and attempting to flee the country, Sheridan commits numerous felonies, including kidnapping, assault, and even assault with a deadly weapon of a federal agent (when he shoots Gerard but deliberately aims for his bullet-proof vest). His girlfriend counts as well, for aiding and abetting him the whole way, and what's more, given that she might not yet be a US citizen, or even in the country legally; her actions could have resulted in her being deported. But when the movie ends, they're all strolling out of a courthouse with a few throwaway lines about how he has been "cleared of all charges".
    • Although in this case, it could be because his actions helped to uncover a massive espionage ring. There's something to be said for doing some good when he could have just run. The prosecutors may have just decided not to indict him in thanks.