Written by Andrew W. Marlowe
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
(Originally written in 2002)
Is the era of the Hollywood blockbuster action over?
I think that’s a question everyone is asking right now, and the answer isn’t coming any time soon. Before September 11, 2001, movies like Independence Day were considered family fare. Now they come with a warning label about disturbing scenes.
A long time before that happened, I loaded my movie queue at Netflix with action-adventure movies. Some of them are hard to watch. In particular, Air Force One sat above my television since November waiting for me to watch it.
(Part of that is my own fault; I had it confused with the movie Executive Decision. As I watched this, I kept waiting for Steven Segal to pop up and try a mid-air rescue.)
The big question becomes: how do these previous action-adventure hits hold up in the post-September 11th world?
In many cases, I think it depends on the movie. The first two installments of the Die Hard series strike me as more gruesome, as well as movies like The Siege and the previously mentioned Executive Decision.
Where does Air Force One it into all of this? Watching it was a different experience. Scenes which had previously gone by fairly unnoticed – such as when the terrorist who has hijacked the plane accuses Americans of getting involved in the Gulf War to save a nickel on a gallon of gas suddenly take on a different meaning.
I found myself looking at this the same way I looked at the events of September 11th; critically. I kept thinking How could this happen?
In the movie, joint U.S. and Russian special forces grab a Milosevic-like dictator of the Russian Republic of Kazakhstan. Within three weeks, his loyal followers manage to infiltrate Air Force One. They are aided by a secret service agent (why he has turned is never explained – a loose end I found hard to ignore) and board the plane following the President’s trip to Moscow where he declares in a speech: We will not negotiate with terrorists.
But will that hold true when the President’s own family is threatened? I know this is a movie, but recent events kept intruding in my thoughts. Harrison Ford portrays President James (Jack) Marshall. Marshall is an extremely strong character with a huge conscience. He will not leave his family behind when he is given the opportunity to exit the plane. Kennedy, maybe Nixon could’ve held their own with the terrorists in this movie, but I don’t see any other recent Presidents being able to hold their own the way Marshall does. If anything, this movie gives a great boost to the theory that a President should serve in the military – not the National Guard – and see action before they send others off to do battle.
The character of Marshall probably is unrealistic, but at this time I found him to be someone to cheer for; a fantasy in this age when we need the strength he exhibits in the face of the worst of mankind.
And Gary Oldman as the terrorist Ivan Korshunov is an amazing face of evil. He nails this part so completely I’m surprised he wasn’t spit on in the street following the release of this film. He is a monster, but a very clever, controlled monster who knows what he’s doing. We can’t chalk him up as just another nutcase like so many other movie bad guys.
Glenn Close portrays the Vice President, Kathryn Bennett. In her own sub-plot, she must decide whether or not to sign an executive order effectively removing the President from office. Her aching over the decision – knowing what she should do, and at the same time knowing what that means – comes across so well. She is loyal to her running mate so completely that she finds it hard to desert him – the same way he found it impossible to desert his family. As Defense Secretary, Dean Stockwell also does a commendable job as Bennett’s protagonist. His intentions are in the best place, even though I found myself rooting against him.
I think this movie still works in this post-September 11th world. What’s more, I think it may even work better. The special effects are good, the suspense factor is good, and the acting is great. If only the scriptwriter and director had given a little more thought to some of the plotholes, this would’ve been a five-star film.
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