Harrison Ford was beginning to tear up and the movie hadn’t even started yet.
It all went down Thursday night at the Cannes Film Festival premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” part of the five-film adventure franchise that Ford kicked off when he was 37 years old and now, at 80, is bringing to a conclusion. After Ford took his seat in the Grand Théâtre Lumière, the festival director, Thierry Frémaux, addressed him from the stage. “We have something special for you,” he said.
Ford raised his eyebrows. A surprise? Well, a clip reel — or as Frémaux put it, an “hommage.” And as Frémaux continued to speak, Ford’s lower lip began to quiver.
As an actor, Ford can be beguilingly vulnerable — watch the way his eyes widen when he takes an onscreen sucker punch — but as a public figure, he has a reputation as a curmudgeon. This is a man who says no more than he has to in interviews, and attempts to probe his emotional state are typically swatted away.
But something is different this time around. As Frémaux cued the clip reel, Ford pressed his hands together, brought them to his lips and blew Frémaux an appreciative kiss. A montage followed that tracked Ford’s career from its humble beginnings through the explosive superstardom of “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” and when he was brought up to the stage afterward to receive an honorary Palme d’Or, Ford’s voice trembled. “I just saw my life flash before my eyes,” he joked.
He was even more emotional two and a half hours later when “Dial of Destiny” ended, the lights came up and a cameraman scurried back over to capture Ford’s reaction. The actor’s eyes were wet with tears that he made no effort to brush away, and asked about it the next day at a news conference for the film, Ford had to collect himself.
“It was indescribable. I felt …” He paused, then chuckled softly. “I can’t even tell you,” he said. “It’s just extraordinary to see a kind of relic of your life as it passes by. But the warmth of this place, the sense of community, the welcome is unimaginable. It makes me feel good.”
In its initial bow on the Croisette, “Dial of Destiny” has so far received mixed reviews. It’s the first in the series to be directed by someone other than Steven Spielberg — this time, it’s James Mangold (“Walk the Line,” “Logan”) — and the changeover is noticeable: “Dial of Destiny” is missing Spielberg’s sense of humor and the giddy pleasure that’s conjured just from the inventive way he blocks a scene.
But Ford holds the whole thing together as its star. Though he’s introduced in a prologue that digitally de-ages him, by the time the movie arrives in 1969, Ford’s Indiana seems every bit as weathered as the artifacts he searches for. Gray-haired, estranged from his wife, Marion (Karen Allen), and out of step with the times, this is a more beaten-down Indiana Jones then we’re used to seeing, and Ford leans all the way in. An adventure ensues that brings back his sense of derring-do, but it’s clear throughout the film that Indiana is preparing to hang up his hat.
So is Ford: Though he is busier than ever, with roles on the shows “Shrinking” and “1923,” he has said that this will be the last time he plays his most iconic character. When asked why at the news conference, Ford gestured to himself in disbelief.
“Is it not evident?” he said. “I need to sit down and rest a little bit.”
An Australian reporter begged to differ. “I still think you’re very hot,” she said. “I was stunned to see you take your shirt off in the second scene. And you’ve still got it!”
Replied Ford with mock-grandeur, “Look, I’ve been blessed with this body. Thanks for noticing.”
With Ford successfully de-aged in the film’s prologue, and Lucasfilm willing to use body doubles and CGI to create a young Luke Skywalker on “The Mandalorian,” is there any chance we could see that technology used to put a young Indiana Jones in future movies that don’t physically star Ford?
“No,” replied the producer Kathleen Kennedy.
“You got the answer from the right person,” Ford said.
Still, he confessed that it was unusual to watch himself as a young man in the film’s prologue. At a time when Ford is contemplating his life’s full span, it provided a reminder that he’s content exactly where he is.
“I’m very happy with it, but I don’t look back and say I wish I was that guy again, because I don’t,” he said. “I’m real happy with age, I love being older. It was great to be young.”
Ford grinned. “I could be dead! But I’m still working. Go figure.”