Air Force One (1997)
Release Date: July 25th, 1997 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Wolfgang Petersen Actors: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson, Liesel Matthews, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell, Jurgen Prochnow, Donna Bullock
he bravado may be amped up and exaggerated beyond anything even remotely realistic, but “Air Force One” still ranks as one of the best hijack movies ever made. The special effects are dated and the use of heroic one-liners may be clichéd (“Get off my plane!”), but it helps that star Harrison Ford is so downright charismatic. And to top it all off, Gary Oldman exquisitely brings to life a memorable and well-played villain, which always helps in over-the-top action films. The careful selection and scripting of such a cinematically nasty role sets “Air Force One” apart from other generic productions; the cast really makes a difference on this one.
President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) has just drastically altered U.S. foreign policies, vowing to never again allow political self-interest to motivate inaction in the face of evil. His riveting speech further supports the notion that the United States will not negotiate with terrorists. It’s bad timing, however, as the world’s most secure aircraft, Air Force One, is soon hijacked by a band of radical Soviet nationalists disguised as a media crew, led by the cunning Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman).
Marshall is rushed to the escape pod while is wife (whom he still healthily loves) and daughter (who ironically insists she’s old enough to handle tough situations) are taken hostage, along with the remaining surviving passengers. On the ground, Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) is forced to negotiate for more than 30 lives. The impenetrable plane may be nuclear-blast shielded and bulletproof, but it proves an easy target for infiltration by the terrorists and a unique battleground for the adventurous mayhem that follows.
The most unbelievable elements are the bravery and courage expressed by ex-soldier Marshall. He may have had actual combat training, but heroism to this degree is especially questionable when dealing with a president. “He has no right to take chances with his life,” states Bennett, sensibly realizing that the presidency is bigger than any one man, though she eventually lets her human sympathies get in the way of duty. It’s an interesting twist to see the leader of the United States strong-armed into a situation in which he must physically and mentally prevail – alone and in harm’s way. Tough, resourceful, and unwaveringly chivalrous, he’s an ideal captain – and exactly the opposite of real life commanders in chief.
Gary Oldman’s performance as the Mother Russia-spewing, mercilessly radical terrorist forerunner is comparable to such great antagonist roles as Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. He’s not nearly as likeable or intelligent, but he brings a distinct authenticity to the part, which is scary, intense, and unforgettable. He’s the perfect heinous counterpart to the unusually stalwart president, even if specific minutes of screentime unsuccessfully try to elicit understanding for his actions through a commiseration method that only distances audiences further from his iconoclastic agenda. With spectacularly riveting music by Jerry Goldsmith, electrifying action sequences, and solid characters, “Air Force One” is a capable thriller bearing Wolfgang Petersen’s signature flair for suspense.
– Mike Massie