Patriotic Movie Review: "Air Force One"

Photo Credit: © 1997 - Columbia/Tri-Star

Rating: R
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: July 25, 1997
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Genre: Action / Adventure / Drama

"Air Force One" is an action-packed drama starring Harrison Ford as the President of the United States. The majority of the film takes place on Air Force One, the President's private plane. Terrorists hijack the plane mid-flight, but they don't count on the President being ex-military and so prone to fighting back even while in hiding. The movie is renowned for being a true-to-life detailing of the President's private plane at the time.

The plot of this adventure movie is as implausible as any action plot. A Russian hijacker poses as a journalist to gain access to Air Force One. While aboard, he starts issuing threats of what will happen if his demands aren't met. Essentially, if the leader of his dissident band isn't released, he would start assassinating Cabinet members and the presidential family, who are all on-board the plane.

As with any drama, the film is driven by the protagonist and antagonist. In this case, casting was a dream. Harrison Ford plays the reluctant hero better than most actors. He has, after all, had enough practice in the role with blockbusters such as "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones" and especially "The Fugitive." In "Air Force One," Ford reprises his role as the reluctant hero in the form of James Marshall, who's not just any politico president. This is a former soldier with battle stripes, and he doesn't take kindly to terrorists threatening the people in his charge.

However, Ford plays the role with as much subtlety as it warrants. He's steady and commanding, but when the action warrants it, he steps in with hand-to-hand combat. His steely reserve also serves him well during the inevitable cat-and-mouse scenes.

His foil in the movie is Ivan Korshunov, played by a wild-eyed Gary Oldman. Oldman not only nails the Russian accent without slipping into kitsch, but he nails the role of evil Russian dissident without slipping into cliché, which is no small feat. Rather than rely on brute force for menace, Oldman's Korshunov is malevolent in his ideology. What's scary is that his rationale almost makes sense as his argument upon being accused of committing murder to further his terrorist cause is as follows: "Murder? You took 100,000 lives to save a nickel on the price of a gallon of gas.'' His rhetoric is uncomfortably difficult to argue against.

Korshunov's unsavory character also comes through in his manner of insults. While the President is hiding so that he can plan his counter-attack, Korshunov remarks that he must have made a cowardly exit "like a woman." His attempt at diplomacy is just as politically incorrect when he warns the Vice President, played very capably by Glenn Close, not to let the press see her "sweating through her silk blouse." The fact that he considers such commentary appropriate is part of what makes Korshunov such a villain.

Naturally, the movie includes elements from other action films, and one element is the bomb. There is a bomb aboard the plane, and it must be defused by those untrained in the dangerous art, namely the president. In this case, the unfortunate president must choose not one out of two wires but two out of five wires. Luckily, the dissidents showed patriotism for both countries, and the stable wires are red, white and blue.

Another standby of the action genre is that the terrorists do not stick together. They separate so that they can secure the perimeter, have a smoke, get over anger or whatever other plot devices remove them from the pack. This is necessary, of course, so that at least a few of them can be picked off one-by-one.

The special effects really bring the action to life. Noteworthy scenes include those in which the characters are exiting and entering co-flying planes at dizzying speeds. Although the actors should have risked a look down, perhaps even a grimace for authenticity's sake, viewers don't attend adventure flicks to see authentic action performed with trepidation.

Overall, though, "Air Force One" works because director Wolfgang Petersen pays such close attention to detail. He takes familiar elements, adds both reality and fantasy, and creates a fresh spin on the hijacked-plane plot line.

This 1997 blockbuster hit the jackpot of being both financially successful and critically well-received. The film cost $85 million to produce, yet it earned an impressive $315,156,409 at the box office. It won seven awards and was nominated for an additional 11 awards, including Academy Award nominations for Best Sound and Best Film Editing. "Air Force One" won the ASCAP Award for Top Box Office Films, Bambi Awards for both Direction and International Film and even the Bogey Award in Germany. In short, the film strikes the balance of movie-making craft and thrilling adventure ride.