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Air Force One (1997)

06/14/2011 1 comment

Air Force One is the official air traffic call sign of any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States. The two jets to which this title is officially assigned are the most technologically advanced and most secure aircraft in the world, designed to protect the President from any threat. You practically have to give a kidney and your firstborn to get the clearance to board. However, little do bad guys know that the real threat to intruders is not the hordes of Secret Service agents and countermeasures that populate the plane during Presidential excursions – at least not when the President is Indiana Jones.

Air Force One is an action film directed and co-produced by Wolfgang Petersen, and written by Andrew W. Marlowe. It stars Harrison Ford, Glenn Close, Gary Oldman, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, and Paul Guilfoyle.

It is 1993. A crack team of elite Spetsnaz and Delta Force commandos have just captured General Ivan Radek, the leader of a terrorist regime in Kazakhstan. Three weeks later, American President James Marshall gives a speech in Moscow, rejecting the idea that he should be congratulated for this victory, instead expressing dismay that it took the United States this long to act. He vows to take a hard line against terrorism, political self-interest be damned. Of course, this is certain to get up somebody’s nose. As he, his wife and daughter, and most of his political posse of advisors and cabinet members board Air Force One to head back to the States, a group of terrorists loyal to Radek board the plane under the guise of a Russian news crew. In the middle of the flight, they seize control of Air Force One and take its passengers hostage with the goal of forcing the President to call Moscow and have Radek released. Meanwhile Secret Service agents hustle Marshall to the escape pod to keep him out of harm’s way. Marshall has other ideas, though; these people are threatening his family and national security, and he is not going to let this stand. It isn’t long before the terrorists realize that they are trapped aboard a highly advanced aircraft with a very angry ex-military Battle President, who is willing to do anything to get them the hell off his plane.

It is clear from the premise itself that this is a pre-9-11 movie. Petersen himself said that with the tightening of national security protocols both civilian and presidential, it would be nigh-impossible for anyone to get the level of access to (and inside) Air Force One, let alone highjack it. As it was, at the time film crews were not even allowed inside either of the Air Force One jets, forcing the filmmakers to make educated guesses about the interior. However, the fact that the setup is dated and the immediate setting for the bulk of the movie was pretty much made up does not make this an uninteresting movie. The idea that terrorists would manage to get this far into the U.S. government’s inner sanctum is thrilling and terrifying, considering that they would be able to wipe out the top tiers of American political authority with frightening ease. While it is still an extremely difficult plan to execute in today’s political climate, this is the scenario that all the security-tightening is designed to prevent, and all it would take is a single hole to render everything moot.

Of course, while this is an action movie, it largely depends on a skilled cast to execute properly. Harrison Ford is excellent as James Marshall, an ex-military man trying to outwit some very dangerous people aboard a relatively tiny space. While he has come a long way since his Indiana Jones/Han Solo roots, he is resourceful and clever, using the resources he has at hand to foil the enemy forces swarming his jet. Glenn Close, playing his Vice President, is a protective and helpful voice on the ground, doing her best to negotiate with dangerous terrorists and guide Marshall to the knowledge he needs while working to prevent the Presidency from being usurped by well-meaning cabinet members. On the other side of the coin, Gary Oldman is a terrifying villain, willingly threatening women and children in pursuit of goals that could throw the civilized world into chaos, in ways that seem a far cry from his villainous role as Zorg in The Fifth Element, released the same year. He is ruthless. He is fanatical. He is unquestioningly loyal to Radek. He will eat your children. (And off-camera, he’s apparently a fun guy to be around.)

If you enjoy gripping, claustrophobic action movies and you’re a fan of Harrison Ford, I highly recommend Air Force One. While the premise may be nearly impossible today, it still plays on modern terrorism fears and keeps you hooked the whole way through.

The Fugitive (1993)


“All right, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”

The Fugitive is a thriller film directed by Andrew Davis and based on the television series of the same name, one of the few such television-to-film adaptations to be nominated for an Academy Award. It stars Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pantoliano, and Sela Ward.

When Dr. Richard Kimble is a respected, successful surgeon, happily married, and living the high life. He is well-respected by his colleagues, and he appears to be well on his way to a long and lucrative career. So when he is convicted of viciously murdering his wife and sentenced to death, everyone is shocked – least of all Dr. Kimble, who maintains that the attack was carried out by a one-armed man. When the transport bus he’s on crashes, he takes the opportunity to escape in the hopes of uncovering the identity of the true murderer and bringing him to justice. Hot on his tail is U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, a no-nonsense deputy who is not about to let any prisoners remain unaccounted-for – including Kimble. As Kimble uses his wits and truckloads of chutzpah to evade the Marshals and find out which one-armed man out of hundreds in Chicago could have killed his wife and why, he uncovers a dark conspiracy behind her murder and and his own framing that could put him in even more danger than he already is.

Quick note up-front: I have never seen the television series this movie is based on. Therefore, I will review this movie based on its own merits as a movie. The basic set-up is simple, as outlined above, but after that Kimble’s hunt for his wife-killer and Gerard’s hunt for his escaped fugitive turn into a multilayered game of cat-and-mouse that had me on the edge of my seat the whole way between narrow-escapes, near-misses, and displays of cool-headedness under pressure that would have made Frank Abagnale proud. While some of Kimble’s antics might seem a bit far-fetched at times (like the leap off the aqueduct), he gets a pass through sheer desperation: by the end of it, there are at least four ways he could meet a bad end – therefore, he has nothing to lose in his prusuit of his wife’s murderer. As for Deputy Gerard, at no time does he come off as a real villain, because he has a job to do, which as he sees it is to catch a known murderer. I was rooting for both of them, even though they were essentially two protagonists working at cross-purposes.

I enjoyed the casting choices. Harrison Ford has long established himself as a serious dramatic actor since his days as Indiana Jones and Han Solo, and he fares well as the wrongfully accused Dr. Kimble, demonstrating a surgeon’s talent for thinking on his feet and reacting quickly but calmly to new adverse circumstances. Tommy Lee Jones also does well as his foil, Deputy Sam Gerard, setting himself up as the Reasonable Authority Figure he would play in half a dozen other films later, including Agent K in Men in Black. He is friendly and likeable even as he goes after Our Intrepid Hero with the tenacity of a bulldog. On a minor note, I’ve seen Sela Ward (the late Mrs. Kimble) in a couple other role since this movie – an emergency room doctor in The Day After Tomorrow and ex-Mrs. House in House, and it appears that tangentially medical roles suit her well, even when she plays a character that serves only as a plot point.

Whether you’re a fan of the original TV series of this is the first you’ve heard of it, give The Fugitive a shot. It’s a tense, straightforward chase movie that will have you rooting for both sides as they head for a common goal: justice.