The movie AIR FORCE ONE should require a doctor's approval, for
those with weak hearts may not make it. Just ten minutes into the
movie, my heart was racing and goose pimples had flared up all over my
body. Although there would be brief interludes when I was able to
relax, most of the show found my adrenaline pumping right along with
President James Marshall's. After the show ended I found myself
gasping for breath and trying hopelessly to reconnect with the real
world. I had just been through such an incredible experience that I
found it hard to believe I was sitting in a theater.
The director of AIR FORCE ONE is the great Wolfgang Petersen. His
DAS BOOT is a cinematic masterpiece that blends heart-stopping action
with the story of real people in peril. So it is with AIR FORCE ONE,
easily the best action picture of the year, but thanks to Petersen's
meticulous direction and first-time screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe's
well laid out script, the human equation is even more compelling. The
intelligent and clever script has enough humor to break the tension
Harrison Ford is the president, and a darn good one, based on this
movie. Ford brings a presence to the office while still imbuing the
character with humanity and fear. President Marshall was a medal of
honor recipient in Vietnam, and Ford uses all of the tricks he learned
in his role as Jack Ryan in the movies based on Tom Clancy's novels.
In short, Ford delivers one of his best performances ever. Next to the
direction, his acting is the second best part of the film.
The story does cause one to suspend disbelief a bit, but the story
as delivered feels plausible even if there are many parts one could
quibble with. INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM was full of
ridiculous aspects but that did not detract from its beauty and neither
do the small liberties AIR FORCE ONE takes with the situation.
When Gary Oldman (THE FIFTH ELEMENT) and his entourage enter the
President's plane masquerading as friendly Russian journalists, you
know what will happen. Even if you haven't seen the trailers, an
unlikely situation, you know that Oldman's specialty is bad guys. When
all hell breaks loose in the cabin, knowing it is inevitable does not
lessen the tension one iota.
Petersen can stage action sequences so realistic that they seem to
literally suck the audience into the scene. Ivan Korshunov, the leader
of the Russian dissidents, played by Oldman doing what he does best --
terrorists and lunatics, could not have been better cast. He is
vicious in the action sequences, and chilling in his quieter
confrontations with the first family, underplayed by Wendy Crewson as
the First Lady, Grace, and Liesel Matthews (A LITTLE PRINCESS) as the
First (teenage) Kid, Alice. "You murdered 100,000 Iraqis to save a
nickel a gallon on gas," he shouts at the First Lady. "Don't lecture
me on the articles of war."
"How the hell did this happen?" demands Vice President Kathryn
Bennett (Glenn Close). "How the hell did they get Air Force One?"
Although she seems too stiff at first to be believable -- well, on
second thought, maybe that is plausible -- Close soon finds her footing
and manages to take control of a seemingly intractable situation,
complicated further by the political intrigue within the White House.
When people hesitate to carry out a strange order from the president,
she backs him all the way. "He's not asking," she barks. "The
commander-in-chief issued a direct order. Now do it!"
Dean Stockwell, as Defense Secretary Walter Dean, gives a
beautiful re-enactment of the Alexander Haig role when President Reagan
was shot. "The presidency is bigger than one man," Dean shouts to an
underling not enamored with Dean's idea of shooting down the plane.
"Didn't they teach you that at Yale?"
Once Korshunov gets control of the plane he announces that he will
execute a hostage every 30 minutes unless Communist and Nationalist
leader General Alexander Radek is released from prison. In a tiny but
crucial role Jurgen Prochnow, the U-boat skipper from DAS BOOT, plays
General Radek. The scene of him walking as the Communist
Internationale plays will not soon be forgotten.
Petersen gets so many of the small details perfect. To add to the
authenticity, he has the Russians talk to each other in Russian with
English subtitles, but has Korshunov speak English to the Americans.
In another small detail, he has the president get trapped like a rat in
a maze, not knowing where to turn to escape.
Bravery rarely appears on the screen anymore, bravado having
replaced it. Petersen brings back old fashioned bravery and makes it
credible. Many individuals risk their lives to save their president --
from the first Secret Service agents who whisk the President away when
the firing starts to the ace pilot who puts his plane between a missile
and Air Force One in one of the film's stirring dogfight sequences.
People in my charged-up audience were applauding sporadically
throughout the film. And laughing occasionally at its humor. Easily
the funniest line is Ford's. When one of his aides suggests a
brilliant way out of their predicament, he tells her with a big smile,
"If this works, you get to be Postmaster General." Speaking in
quasi-code, Marshall tells Bennett, "Kathryn, if you give a mouse a
cookie." Understanding his meaning, she completes his sentence, "He's
gonna want a glass of milk."
In a show that never flags for a moment, the endgame does not
disappoint. Although the film is developed into a seamless whole
rather the traditional configuration of setup, body, and conclusion.
The suspense builds and the tension ratchets up until the end. The
critic I was sitting next to, his girlfriend, my wife, and I all let
out a collective, "oh my god" type of sigh when the ending credits
finally rolled. I have not seen a better movie this year.
AIR FORCE ONE runs a blindingly fast 1:58. It is rated R for some
bloody images, but overall I found the violence realistic but never
overdone or gory. The film would be fine for teenagers. I was blown
away by the picture so I give it my strongest recommendation and my top
rating of ****.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes