REVIEW: Air Force One (1997)

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RetroRamble’s George McGhee gives a more in depth look at Air Force One in terms of how it stacks up today.

No time to read the article?  Listen or Download the podcast episode here!

Following the success of Die Hard in 1988, Hollywood tried to recreate that high concept/ elevator pitch “It’s Die Hard in a …” which was pitched one man against the odds (usually of the international terrorist variety) in a confined environment.

Some were successful at copying the template but for every Under Siege there’s a Sudden Death.

Air Force One was one of the last from this phase, two years after Die Hard with a Vengeance, ironically ditching the confined one man army template it had created and one year after fellow air-bound thriller Executive Decision.

I realise there was a bit of resurgence recently with the competing Die Hard…In The White House with White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen – I haven’t seen either, so can’t comment.

So why pick Air Force One? Why does it work?

Well it’s  a combination of great casting, solid direction and some brassy patriotism. Sure, there’s been plenty of films about the POTUS, (real and fictional) but how many of them kill a man with their bare hands and are Harrison Ford?!

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The script has some very cheesy and simplified moments but Wolfgang Peterson is a competent director and he has form delivering tension in a confined space – check out the excellent U-Boat thriller, Das Boot for proof. The snappy script allows Peterson to open with a gripping marine mission, show and tell us what’s special about Air Force One, (the plane is capable of withstanding an action film), it’s passengers and the kind of President James Marshall is.  He’s bloody everything!  He knows everyone’s name, he’s a family man, a loving husband,he drinks beer and loves football. God bless America!

All this establishes the personal stakes at hand, which is the underlying concept – would a world leader sacrifice their political stance if their family and friends were under threat? An intriguing question, especially when the world leader in question can handle machine gun and fly a plane. This military background is neatly provided by a military general on hand in the control room, I like to call him, General Exposition.

Another reason this film holds up is it’s casting – what a support cast! Dean Stockwell (channeling Dick Dastardly) William H Macy at the start of his career and the always dependable Glenn Close the Vice President.

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Trivia: Glenn Close provided her own wig for the movie.

Close does the best she can, staring intensely at a conference phone for the duration of her screentime. It’s good to see a strong female role that isn’t cannon fodder or a damsel in distress – though she does get a bit stressed by the end of it.

Who’s getting Glenn sweaty? Blighty’s very own Gary Oldman, giving us more of  the unhinged menace he delivered in Leon, whilst chewing on a thick Russian accent.

Unfortunately the film slightly loses it’s way once Oldman is thrown off Ford’s plane and the plane changes it’s flightpath to borrow liberally from Top Gun and then Airport 77 before literally crashing into the sea, in a flurry of Playstation 2 level pixels.

Yes, it’s cheesy, unbelievable and gung-ho but Ford still sells in the emotional punch, you really believe this man would sacrifice his beliefs for his family. “I’ll do it, just don’t hurt my family!” Anyone else delivering that line would probably be laughable – except for Kevin Costner, who almost got the role before Ford.

Could this movie be made today? After September 11th? Not likely. With Donald Trump about to move into the Oval Office, it’s highly unlikely he’d be facing Russian terrorists – more likely some angry middle-class Americans…

MVP: Despite the strong cast, this is Ford’s movie.

ALTERNATE TITLE: Get Off My Plane!

FUN FACT: Donald Trump used the theme for his presidential campaign trail….and was politely told to stop using it by Jerry Goldsmith’s Estate.

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What’s your favourite Die Hard in a…. film?

Let us know in the comments!

George McGhee, Retro Ramble 2017

3 thoughts on “REVIEW: Air Force One (1997)

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