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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Air Force One (1997)


"Get off my plane!"

Air Force One, the 1997 summer hit directed by Wolfgang Petersen (The Boat/Das Boot, In The Line of Fire) and starring Harrison Ford as President James Marshall, stretches the term "willing suspension of disbelief" to its limits, yet, incredibly, it works.

Co-starring Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson, Liesel Matthews, William H. Macy, and Dean Stockwell, Air Force One's premise is simple: Russian ultra-Communist terrorists take over the President's plane on its way back to the U.S. from Moscow. Marshall, who by happenstance is separated from his family and staff during the takeover, must use his military training (he's a former Air Force pilot) and his wits to regain control of Air Force One and rescue the hostages before the terrorists achieve their aims.

The terrorists, led by Ivan Korshunov (Oldman), are seeking the immediate release of General Alexander Radek (Jurgen Prochnow), who was snatched from his palace in Kazakhstan by a joint team of Russian and American Special Forces. Radek and his followers believe in the restoration of the old Soviet Union, and until both Russia and the U.S. intervened, had ruled Kazakhstan with as much regard for human life as the Taliban exhibited when they ruled Afghanistan. After a ceremony hosted by the grateful Russian President in which Marshall warns rogue nations and terrorists that "we will no longer be afraid. It's your turn to be afraid," the American delegation heads to one of Moscow's main airports to board the Presidential plane.

Little do they know that Korshunov and his team, using falsified press credentials, have passed through both Russian and American security and are aboard. Ironically, they are given a tour of Air Force One by the unsuspecting assistant press secretary, Melanie Mitchell (Donna Bullock). And why not? To the Secret Service agents and the Air Force Security detachment, Korshunov and his people are reporters, harmless and unarmed. So how in the world are these guys going to storm Air Force One, "the most secure aircraft in the world?" Hmmm....and why do Korshunov and Secret Service agent Gibbs (Xander Berkeley) exchange that glance as they pass each other, eh?

Petersen and screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe never do explain Gibbs' motivations for his subsequent actions (as the director admits in the audio commentary track), but by the time audiences start asking those "real life" questions about plausibility, the sheer adrenaline rush provided by this action-packed film suppresses the "yeah, right" response to its premise. The Air Force (which willingly participated in the production of this film) says there is no escape pod in Air Force One's list of defensive measures, and viewers know that no sane person, whether terrorist or not, is going to fire automatic weapons inside an airborne plane unless he or she knew the mission was going to fail anyway.

Mixed in with the gunfire and explosions that punctuate the film, Petersen and Marlowe endow their characters with depth and believability. Petersen makes viewers care about each person being held hostage, warts and all, so that when one is lost, it feels real. Even Korshunov is played in such way that his motivations feel true and heartfelt, even if his cause is not just.

Yet Petersen and his cast and crew make audiences forget these dull real life facts. By the time the credits roll to Jerry Goldsmith's rousing End Title Suite, the viewer will wish the current occupant of the Oval Office were replaced by Harrison Ford's President Marshall, who is not only a man of political integrity but also a man of action. By Alex Diaz-Granados "fardreaming writer"

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Air Force One Movie Trailer


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