I delayed posting this film due to what was going on in America after the holidays. But it is an excellent action movie and features some great actors.
Air Force One
I can remember that this was the first “R” rated movie I ever watched; and I was certainly younger than seventeen. A film where Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones, Han Solo, just covered him as Jack Ryan) shines as a President of action and Gary Oldman (Sirius Black, Dracula in the famous movie adaptation [of which I have seen bits and pieces], Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, for which he won an Oscar [finally; this man is brilliant], Commissioner Gordon in Nolan-verse Batman, and dozens of other roles) is a very convincing Russian bad guy. Glenn Close (voiced the mother gorilla in Tarzan, and was the stylish Cruella de Vil in the live-action 101 and 102 Dalmatians) proves herself as the Vice President. Wendy Crewson plays Ford’s wife; she also appeared in an episode of Hallmark Channel’s Good Witch series and the mother in the Tim Allen Santa Clause movies. Their daughter was played by Liesel Matthews, who was Sarah in a darling rendition of A Little Princess in 1995. The pilot, Major Caldwell, was played by William H. Macy; and yes, he’s Admiral Sandecker in Sahara.
It’s the nineties (no, this film would not be made now, in a post 9/11 world) and Harrison Ford is the President of the United States, James Marshall, attending a state dinner in Russia. He makes a speech in regards to a joint force apprehending the terrorist general Radek. Marshall deviates from his original speech, saying never again will the United States allow political self interests to stop us from doing what is morally right. Atrocity and terror are not political weapons; we will never negotiate with terrorists, and those who would employ such tactics should be afraid. He receives a standing ovation at the dinner, but his National Security advisor chastises him in private on the way back to the plane. We see the screenings a Russian news crew undergoes in order to board Air Force One.
The feeling on board the President’s plane is relaxed; he’s taped the Michigan football game, his wife and daughter join him, the twelve-year-old falling asleep at one point. President Marshall still has meetings to attend. There’s even a comment about Saddam Hussein (yep, pre-2001). Then we see one of the secret service agents unlock the armory and shoot his teammates. The Russian news crew sees their signal, get up, and quickly gather weapons and begin shooting. The President is rushed to an escape pod (not actually a part of the real plane) while he worries about his family. The pilots bravely vow to land the plane, no matter what happens. They rush to call reinforcements at the Ramstein base in Germany. They’ll have a team out to recover the escape pod. The Vice President rushes to the White House. Sadly, both pilots are killed and one of the Russians takes control of the aircraft, narrowly missing a building on the ground.
The leader of the bad guys, Ivan, quickly takes command. He puts a call in to the Vice President; what he wants is Mother Russia to be a great nation again. To have the capitalists dragged from the Kremlin and shot. To have America beg forgiveness. To that end, he wants the terrorist general Radek released from prison. Until that happens, Ivan will execute one of the hostages he has onboard every half hour.
In the White House, the Secretary of Defense tries to take control, deeming it a military incident. At this moment, they don’t know if the President is dead or alive. We have found out that the President remained onboard and is hiding on the lower level. A General reminds the Secretary of Defense and the Vice President that James Marshall was a Medal of Honor recipient and a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He knows how to fight. They do find out that the escape pod was empty and so must assume the President is still onboard.
Marshall has been busy, trying to find out what is going on, but he has to remain hidden. Ivan takes the First Lady and her daughter upstairs with him. He speaks to the daughter, Alice; “you think I am a monster?” But he is not unlike her own father; they have both spilled blood. But the President does it behind smart bombs. Ivan himself has three children, but his devotion to Mother Russia is absolute. He kisses the girl’s forehead. She speaks back to him, “you are a monster. And my father is a great man. You’re nothing like my father.”
Said father has discovered a cell phone in the baggage hold and calls the White House. The switchboard operator doesn’t believe him so follows protocol to track the call. Oh, yes, the man was telling the truth and patches it through, except now a guard has caught Marshall. He pockets the phone, still on, and gives instruction to have an F-15 fire on the plane so preventative measures will take over, giving him a chance to get away. He gets a few moments on the phone and discovers what is going on. He privately advises the Vice President, they cannot release Radek. If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk. If they give in on this, the radicals will walk over them. Speaking of milk; a leaking carton gives him an idea.
But now, Ivan has discovered there is an American lurking downstairs. He opens coms and executes the friendly Press Secretary on the air, demanding the secret service agent to reveal himself. Some of the President’s advisors are worried they’ll be executed next; he’s already shot the National Security Advisor. But another military man cautions that whoever is down there knows to wait for the perfect shot; he’s their only chance of getting out alive.
Marshall has managed to dump fuel and Ivan now has to ask for a refueling tanker. When the President manages to make it upstairs again, he confers with pilot Major Caldwell; if the plane can drop altitude and speed, the hostages can use parachutes from the back of the plane (also not really onboard the actual plane). One of the President’s secretaries suggests the fax line, it’s separate from the phone line, to get the message through. It works, and most of the hostages make their way to the back of the plane.
But the ramp opening lights up in the control room upstairs, signaling to Ivan and his cohorts. A guard heads down to stop them. Some people get off safely, a few are injured. There’s a handful left with the President, including the traitor. Well, now Ivan has the President right where he wants him. He threatens to shoot either Marshall’s wife or daughter and really, this is all the President’s fault, with the American disease of freedom spreading across the globe. Russia has fallen to gangsters. Ivan gets a few punches in on Marshall and orders him to call the Russian President. Marshall refuses, until Ivan points a gun at Alice. The Russian President agrees, against his better judgment, and Radek begins to walk free.
Back in D.C., the Secretary of Defense is still concerned on who is in charge. An expert brings up the Twenty-fifth Amendment; the President is incapacitated as a hostage and is thus not acting as the President. The Secretary leaps onto this notion and begins rallying support. The Vice President resists the notion. When she holds a press conference when word gets out on a plane crash, she firmly declares that James Marshall is still President.
Ivan has other plans for Marshall, now that he knows the man will negotiate. Marshall is pissed Ivan lied; well, he’s the bad guy, what did he expect? Marshall begins cutting his duct-taped hands and when Ivan walks pass him again, he jumps him. There’s a shoot out, the last of Ivan’s cohorts are killed, and one of the President’s men is shot. Ivan takes the First Lady with him, ready to jump off the plane to save himself. Marshall chases after them and his wife is awesome enough to throw Ivan off her. Marshall and Ivan wrestle and Marshall wraps a cord around Ivan’s neck, and after demanding “get off my plane,” [best line of the movie], pulls the parachute open, the cord acting as a noose.
Marshall calls off Radek’s release and the general is shot feet from escape. The Russians cheer and the White House cheers when news comes in that the Americans have retaken the plane. Caldwell helps Marshall fly, but they have a new problem. MiGs are incoming and F-15s are ordered into Kazakhstan airspace to protect Air Force One. One takes a shot for the President’s plane, but the larger plane was still damaged. A strike team is rerouted and will hopefully make it before Air Force One runs out of fuel. They do arrive and send jumpers in with a cable to ferry people to the new plane. It’s descending too fast and they only have time for a few relays. The President’s family is first to leave, then his injured advisor. That’s when the secret service agent reveals himself to be the traitor and shoots Caldwell. He’s ready to shoot Marshall, but he holds the cord out of reach and just manages to hook on before the plane hits the water. He’s reunited with his family and they have survived the ordeal.
I have always liked this film because Harrison Ford is an excellent action star. He’s the kind of guy you want with you when a crisis arises. And Gary Oldman is utterly brilliant as Ivan the radical. He’s calm and collected at times, yet when he loses it and shouts, you jump back with a twinge of fear. He will do what is necessary to achieve his goal. What’s a bit funny is NCIS‘s first episode is based on Air Force One and Agent Gibbs (no relation to the mole in the film) references the movie more than once.
Certainly worth a watch!
My schedule is a bit crazy this month, so it may be a bit before I update again, but when I come back, we’ll jump in Firefly and continue on to the new Star Trek movies and finally make our way to other superhero films and the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe. (And after that, never fear, there is more, like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings, but those are far down the line).