Continuing our look at the very best of what 1997 delivered in action cinema, (Last time, we had Eddie Murphy’s fantastic ‘Metro‘), we come to another star who has given the movie lovers of the world so much more than most ever have… Harrison Ford. With Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan under his belt, along with countless other classics including his wonderful performance as Dr. Richard Kimble in the movie version of ‘The Fugitive’ and the iconic sci-fi masterpiece that is ‘Blade Runner’, Harrison Ford is one of the biggest stars in cinema. But as a major fan of almost everything he’s a part of, I have my own personal favorite from his filmography. The Wolfgang Petersen action smash ‘Air Force One’, starring the great man as none other than the President of the United States of America.
President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) is travelling home to the USA with his family onboard Air Force One, after a special event in Russia. But the flight does not go to plan, as an army of war criminals are also onboard, and take control of the President’s plane mid-flight. Led by the brutal Egor Korshunov (Gary Oldman), the terrorists aim to have a dictator of Kazakhstan released from prison, threatening to murder the POTUS and everyone onboard Air Force One, if their demands are not met. With the lives of his family and staff on the plane at stake, the President has no choice but to take the fight to his vicious captors and ensure that the USA won’t have to break their number one rule… Never negotiate with terrorists.
Harrison Ford is a legend. That can never be doubted. And his roles of Han Solo and Indiana Jones will always top most people’s polls of his finest work. But for me, I’ve never loved him more than I do in ‘Air Force One’. Tough, caring, and an ass-kicking machine, Ford for me has never been better. For so long, movies were made that always had the US President needing to be saved by the heroes. But here, the President is the hero and saves the day. It may be heavily influenced by Bill Pullman’s presidential turn in ‘Independence Day’ the year before, but it’s still super effective. To see the world’s most powerful man fighting Russian terrorists on an aeroplane is one of those great dreams that every American boy would have had. So to see it play out for real, with one of the world’s most awesome movie stars play the role, is almost level to the magic of Disney himself. There’s not enough praise in the world to heap upon Harrison Ford for all his work, but he’s never ruled the cinema screen more when he utters “Get off my plane!” and launches a terrorist to his high-altitude death.
When we see a premise like this, it’s always easy to get swept up in excitement. You read the blurb on the back of a VHS tape and shudder with glee (As I did with this movie one upon a time). But sometimes it goes horribly wrong. Take for example, a movie called ‘Lockout’, starring Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace. Guy Pearce plays a CIA agent framed for murder who is offered a deal, his total freedom if he saves the US President’s daughter from a space station prison, which has been overrun by its own inmates. A story written by Luc Besson. So a movie with a story by Luc Besson, starring Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace from ‘Taken’, set in a space prison? That could only be good, right?… Wrong. It’s garbage. Almost actionless, shoddy, cheap, terrible performances etc… A wasted opportunity. And that’s why movies like ‘Air Force One’ are so adored. It has a stunning cast, including one of the world’s biggest movie stars, a wonderful director (Wolfgang Petersen, who I’ll get to soon!) and awesome story. And it wastes not a single drop of awesomeness. It’s packed with explosive action, brutal fights, spectacular special effects, and one of the best finales to an action movie ever written. Yes, it’s blatantly copied from Sylvester Stallone’s awesome classic ‘Cliffhanger’, but it’s still fantastic. And what makes it even more fun is that Ford is obviously having the time of his life, as he spits out his lines with a rage and menace we rarely see from him. The scene with President Marshall held by Korshunov with a gun to his neck is sheer class. The entire movie is filled with close-quarter action, brutal violence and obviously a large amount of tragedy. It is a terrorist movie after all. And one of the very finest.
Wolfgang Petersen is, in my opinion, one of the ten greatest filmmakers in the world. With blockbusters like ‘The Perfect Storm’, his magnificent remake ‘Poseidon’ (Based on ‘The Poseidon Adventure’) and ‘Troy’, to fantastic classic thrillers like ‘In The Line Of Fire’ (Also a presidential movie) and ‘Outbreak’, Petersen is a stellar film director, with a love of epic visuals and those close intense scenes that pepper ‘Air Force One’. He even gave us the beloved 1980’s fairytale adventure ‘The NeverEnding Story’ and cult classic ‘Enemy Mine’. Perhaps the most loved of his movies is the classic German televsion mini-series (Later shaped into a movie) ‘Das Boot’, which stars Jurgen Prochnow (Who also plays the dictator in ‘Air Force One’ and stars in many classic action movies and TV shows). ‘Das Boot’, an incredible submarine thriller, showcases Petersen as the incredible filmmaker he is, and he carries much of that style of film into ‘Air Force One’. With tight space comes much excitment, and Petersen nails that constantly with his movies. He even somehow manages to create that tension in ‘Outbreak’, the legendary virus thriller that scared the whole world. And with ‘Troy’, his love of blockbuster filmmaking is especially on show. ‘The Perfect Storm’ couldn’t be more perfect than it is, the tragic tale of a group of fishermen who sacrifice themselves in an an attempt to simply put food in the stomachs of their loved ones. Once again, you see that heart come into ‘Air Force One’, making it a movie that’s not just about action, but also about bravery, loyalty and love. And very few filmmakers do as good a job as showing that as Wolfgang Petersen. It’s a great shame that he hasn’t made an American movie in eleven years.
Harrison Ford is clearly the star of ‘Air Force One’, there’s no doubt. But the support cast is absolutely fantastic too. Gary Oldman’s Korshunov is one of the most chilling villains ever to appear on screen. His switches between gentleman to brutal merciless killer is nothing short of terrifying. Especially when you’re a kid seeing the movie for the first time. A hateful, evil man, played brilliantly by another of the world’s best actors. Also taking up great acting roles are the brilliant Glenn Close as the Vice President, who acts on ground to save everyone onboard the flight, and Wendy Crewson as the First Lady. There are also many more stellar stars including William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell, Xander Berkeley, Paul Guilfoyle and the brilliant Liesel Matthews from ‘A Little Princess’. There’s not one actor who delivers anything below their usual brilliance, which is rare for a Hollywood movie. Harrison Ford by himself is always more than enough to make a movie great, but back him up with one of the best casts in a 90’s action movie, and you’ve got magic.
Most movie lovers would never pick ‘Air Force One’ over the likes of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Blade Runner, The Fugitive or his fantastic Jack Ryan thrillers (‘Patriot Games’ is my second-favorite Harrison Ford movie). But while I’m a huge fan of all those movies, ‘Air Force One’ always remains my favorite Harrison Ford movies. Big, brutal, action-packed and filled with the awesome charisma of Ford, ‘Air Force One’ is hands down his finest hour. I have the glorious Jerry Goldsmith theme playing in my head right now. Trivia: Donald Trump used this very theme as he walked out to give his first speech as President elect last year.
Be sure to check back with us when we next take flight once again with the action masterpiece ‘Con Air’. If you thought I heaped praise on ‘Air Force One’, wait until you see what I’ve got to say for Nicolas Cage as Cameron Poe in another of the greatest action movies ever made.