Air Force One is a 1997 American political action-thriller that was co-produced and directed by Wolfgang Petersen. It follows the strife of President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) and his government in trying to secure the safety of innocent civilians aboard the famous presidential plane which has been taken over by a group of dangerous Russian terrorists.
a.) James Marshall.
There are quite a number of distinguished actors who have had the privilege of playing the American president both in movies and in television. I don’t mean to throw the likes of Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, Mark Harmon or even Billy Bob Thornton under the bus but they all pale in comparison to Harrison Ford in this respect. There was more to Harrison’s version of the leader of a free world that I hadn’t seen the first time I watched this film in the early 2000’s and still rarely see in associated films to date. President Marshall is the epitome of a great leadership and the reasons why are evident throughout the film. He is ready to stand up for what is right and say things as they are without sugar-coating even in the face of strong opposition; we see this aspect to the dignitary take shape in the opening scenes. Marshall gives an extra-ordinary speech that pivots on his regret that the U.S hadn’t intervened earlier in the tyrannical crisis that saw many civilian lives lost.
He does admit to the fault and at the same time sternly pledges that acts of terrorism will no longer be tolerated and that his government will uphold the rule of non-negotiation with the people who champion for terror. The latter statement does come to bite the character where it hurts later on in the film but by then, he had already done enough to make you find understanding in why he had to broker an agreement with the terrorists that attack Air Force One. The shocking executive decision to give in went a long way to humanize Ford’s character given his position in society. It confirms to the audience the fact that when someone is shaken enough whether physically or emotionally, he or she will indeed be ready to compromise on certain beliefs and principles that they hold dear.
b.) Ivan Korshunov.
A hero is only as good as his villain and in the course of the movie, you get to see Gary Oldman’s character breathe more life to that saying and I was of course drawn to every scene that he featured in. Ivan Korshunov is a loyalist to the imprisoned General Radek in every sense of the word; he alongside his trusted henchmen are on a strict mission to get their General released at all costs. Well, it meant that they had to hijack the most secure plane on the planet, take hostage and kill innocent bystanders but did Ivan and his men care? Not in the slightest bit. These guys mean business and Ivan, ideally being the leader of the group, had the most passion for the cause. In order to make sure his intentions to the U.S government, he threatens to put down a hostage every 30 minutes until his demands of having President Marshall orchestrate the release of Radek are promptly met and he duly stays true to his word. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I need from a villain and there are not many Hollywood performances out there who do antagonist roles better than Gary Oldman. I liked his Russian accent as well; there was a substantial authenticity to it.
c.) Auxilliary characters.
Glen Close who plays Vice President Kathryn Bennet is not as compelling a character during the whole hijacking situation but she was okay as a character nonetheless; I can’t really complain. There’s not much to Bennet aside from the fact that she had to execute her 2nd-in-command duties in a room filled with crisis advisors and military people. Wendy Crewson as well as Liesel Matthews are on here as First Lady Grace Marshall and First Daughter Alice Marshall respectively. Much like Glen close’s character, they have a role to play in the conflict that ensues and for the most part, it’s done well. They find themselves in very compromising situations being who they are and I was impressed by their mannerisms in the face of those conditions and I was effectively sold on what they were going through.
The Plot, Boons and Banes.
I have always found the scourge of terrorism as something that overwhelmingly represents humanity at its worst and inhumanity at its best; it’s a global issue whose termination is not in the foreseeable reach. This Wolfgang Petersen motion-picture is remarkable at showcasing a proper terrorism situation involving hostages and how it superlatively plays out with the two opposing sides. On one hand, we have the highest people in the U.S government who are desperate to ensure the well-being of the individuals aboard the formidable flying fortress and extinguish the threat that Ivan and his team pose. On the other hand, we have Gray Oldman’s character who alongside his fellow countrymen believe that their actions, however brutal, are justified and are for the betterment of their leader and Mother Russia. Aside from their mission to have Radek released, you could tell that they were out for revenge judging by how ruthless they were to the hostages. This is because, in their eyes, the United States is just as much to blame for the casualties incurred as a result of the American foreign policy as they are for the trouble they were causing.
The moments that featured panic caused by the confrontation are not over the top but they appeal to you anyway; they had a certain feel to them that the extras in the film brought out well. Additionally, I am a big fan of the American Secret Service particularly the way they carry out themselves and thus if a movie is able to give me that, I’ll be all for it.
That said, I definitely did not find favour in the direction that the movie took with Agent Gibbs (Xander Berkeley). It’s not that big an issue though I think Wolfgang shouldn’t have established him as the collaborator with the Russian terrorists so early in the movie but should have instead surprised us in the end with an unexpected reveal. Secondly, the VFX team didn’t do a great job with the C.G.I case in point the mid-air explosions and the plane crash-landing into the sea. The imagery was so bad that I was tempted to look away from the screen up until the next scene popped up.
Despite the fact that there is a substantial predictability to the classic tale of good versus evil that takes center stage in Air Force One, I can almost guarantee you that having watched it once, you definitely won’t pass up the opportunity to watch it again. It’s not perfect but it’s really good, period.