Air Force One
Director(s): Wolfgang Petersen
Writer(s): Andrew W. Marlowe
Cast: Harrison Ford, Tom Everett, Dean Stockwell, William H. Macy, Xander Berkeley, Paul Guilfoyle, Liesel Matthews, Wendy Crewson, Glenn Close, Gary Oldman and Jürgen Prochnow
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Jul 25, 1997 - Wide
Summer’s a blast. It’s an act crazy, have some fun, ride a rollercoaster time of year. There are some thought-provoking movies released at this time, but the season does tend to lend itself to the thrill-a-minute action flick. Armed with that knowledge and a box of popcorn I headed off to catch the action in Air Force One.
There aren’t too many layers to the film and the story pitch would have been over in five minutes: “The President of the United States declares war on terrorism. They declare war on him by hijacking Air Force One. But this isn’t Clinton or Bush at the top: Harrison Ford’s the top guy and he single-handedly saves the day.”
Enough said. The idea’s tremendously simple. It even gives the audience a traditional enemy. Okay, so we’re not supposed to hate the Russians anymore, but at least we can hate those Russians that want to turn back the clock.
Apparently the flick was originally intended for Kevin Costner, but I’m sorry, the only guy who could pull this off is Harrison Ford. Ford plays U.S. President James Marshall, who delivers a “we’ll no longer tolerate terrorism” speech in Moscow after a joint U.S.-Russian commando raid captures General Radek, the tyrannical leader of the breakaway republic of Kazakhstan.
Heading for home, the President’s entourage is joined by a group of Russian “journalists”. The group, headed by Korshunov (Gary Oldman), takes control of the plane with the help of a traitorous Secret Service agent. Initially believing the President has escaped via an escape pod, the hijackers begin negotiating with Vice President Bennett (Glenn Close) for the release of General Radek by threatening to kill a hostage every thirty minutes until his release.
Of course, the President hasn’t escaped. Instead he’s hiding in the bowels of the plane and from there launches his one man battle to regain control of his plane thereby saving his family, friends, and, of course, his country.
Harrison Ford is probably the only actor we’d root for in a role like this. He’s able to combine the action-hero theatrics with the sort of humanity we’d expect from someone like Gregory Peck. He’s no longer the swaggering Han Solo or Indiana Jones. His heroes of late are the type of guys who put in a 9-to-5 day at the office, but when pushed seem to remember they know how to kill with one hand tied behind their back. I can only imagine what U.S. politics would be like if the president really was this resourceful.
Gary Oldman avoids the cartoon-like characterizations of most action-flick heavies in his portrayal of the head of the Russian hijackers. His Korshunov is a driven military man who sees the former military strength and glory of his homeland crumbling into breakaway republics controlled by the Russian mob and subjected to the whims of the West. It’s his belief that Radek can return Russia to its former glory that instigates the whole affair. Oldman’s character gets off some of the best lines too. We’ve all seen the flag-waving trailers with a defiant Ford saying “Get off my plane!”, but when Korshunov is yelled at for killing an unarmed woman, he quips that the U.S. killed 100,000 in Iraq “…to save a nickel on a gallon of gas.” I wonder if that line would have been in had the director been American.
Well, speaking of directors, Wolfgang Peterson does do a good job of keeping the pace up, especially in the panicky moments of the initial assault on the plane. Some critics have said his Das Boot shoot gave him the perfect training for working in tight quarters, but you know some of the settings on the plane are awfully roomy even for a 747. Hell, if they’re really that big, perhaps they could put more than six peanuts in those little bags they give us!
Once you’ve left Ford and Oldman there’s not too much praise to toss around to the other actors. I love Glenn Close, and though I don’t hate her performance here, I just feel that the role doesn’t give her much to bite into. I’d love to have seen her aboard the tense action on the jet, but let’s face it, when your picture centers around danger at 35,000 feet it’s hard to feel tension with someone at a speakerphone in a conference room. Dean Stockwell’s Defense Secretary is merely a distraction in this film. I think he’d make a great CIA chief but he doesn’t come across as the #1 military man in the administration. William H. Macy does a nice job as a military aide on the jet, but as in many of these big budget pictures, if your name’s not above the film’s title the writers didn’t spend too much time on you. Also a perverse part of me wanted Fargo’s Frances McDormand to come in and ask him if he was missing any jumbo jets off the lot.
Still, as I said at the beginning of this review, it’s summer. I had fun for the two hours I rode this movie. Though I wouldn’t line up to ride the roller-coaster again, I still screamed with the rest of the riders on the first hill.