Sunday, November 17, 2013
Olympus Has Fallen
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Rick Yune, Dylan McDermott, Finley Jacobsen, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Ashley Judd
Running Time: 120 min.
★★★ (out of ★★★★)
You know a movie means business when they kill off the First Lady off within the first ten minutes. That this isn't even a spoiler, but merely the inciting event kicking off the White House terrorist takeover thriller, Olympus Has Fallen, should give you an idea the kind of action spectacle we're dealing with. It's greatest attribute is that it doesn't even give audiences time to question whether this or that can happen (hint: it probably can't) or figure out logistics. North Korean terrorists descend upon Washington D.C., staging an all out assault on The White House, muscling their way through by killing as many innocent bystanders, secret service, military and law enforcement as possible. And in this PG-13 movie era where it seems everything on screen is sanitized within an inch of its life, it comes as a great relief that director Antoine Fuqua doesn't pull any punches. He doesn't give in to political correctness, showing no hesitation in depicting the "bad guys" as angry terrorists who want to blackmail and destroy us. To his credit, he knows exactly the kind of movie he wants to make and that there's justifiably very little room for subtly or nuance in it. It's fun and ridiculous in ways only the most enjoyable action movies are.
The pawn in the North Koreans' game is President Benjamin Asher, who's played by Aaron Eckhart exactly how you'd expect the actor to play a stubborn, but heroic, tough as nails Commander in Chief. Over a year removed, he's still reeling from the tragic results of a car accident at Camp David, when his good friend and lead secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) saved his life while failing to prevent the death of the First Lady (Ashley Judd). After being removed from the President's security detail, Mike's now working at the Treasury Department and one the film's best dialogue exchanges comes when Director of the Secret Service Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett) tells him that Asher knows he did the right thing but was removed because he can't stand looking at him and being reminded of that night. A good line from a fairly clever script, effectively setting the stage for much of what follows, even if you could argue what's been seen so far is interesting enough for another story in itself.
All hell breaks loose when the North Koreans descend upon Pennsylvania Ave. by air and ground, eventually shooting their way into the White House where the President and Secretary of Defense McMillan (Melissa Leo) are being held hostage in a bunker by dangerous terrorist mastermind Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune). It's up to Banning, seemingly the last agent alive, to rescue his former boss and make sure the First Son, Connor (Finley Jacobsen) is located. Their demands involve the removal of U.S. forces from Korea as well as a plot involving the detonation of our nuclear weapons, but that's almost beside the point. This can really best be described as "Die Hard in the White House" and your enjoyment of it is directly proportional to how exciting you find that premise, as it does mostly deliver on the tagline. It's hard not to when you have Butler taking a much needed breather from rom-com nonsense to slither through the walls of the Oval Office killing unsuspecting terrorists.
It's ironically the smaller character moments provided by an impressive supporting cast that end up carrying this. Like a frighteningly believable and bloodied Melissa Leo refusing to reveal the nuclear code or reciting the pledge of allegiance as she's dragged across the floor. Morgan Freeman's known for playing calm, benevolent leaders so it's kind of unusual to see him, as Speaker of the House Allan Trumball, suddenly thrust into the Presidency without any preparation and having to think on his feet. He and Army Chief of Staff Clegg (played by the great Robert Forster) are Banning's only lifeline to the outside world, even if at times it seems Clegg is working against him.
There's this scene where Clegg makes this horrible decision that kills his own men, but look at Forster's face. He's like a kid playing a video game. Not only does he think this plan is actually working, if he loses some of his men in the process, so be it. The idea of "giving in" to these terrorists' demands and withdrawing the troops is literally his worst nightmare. There's a small attempt to convey Banning's life outside work but that Radha Mitchell's role as his wife insignificant in terms of characterization isn't much of a detriment considering that's not where our concern lies. Dylan McDermott is sleazy and menacing as disgruntled ex-Secret Service agent Dave Forbes, who's defected to the other side to help Kang carry out his plan and is headed for a showdown with his former colleague.
As ridiculous as the movie may seem, it works within the context of its own silliness, never violating the ground rules it sets for itself. The opening thirty to forty minutes aren't silly though. They're actually pretty scary. After that, well, not so much. But it's still a great time. Whether Eckhart is believable as the President of the United States is almost beside the point here. Similar to Harrison Ford in Air Force One, he's believable as Aaron Eckhart playing the President in a treacherous situation, which is exactly all that should be asked of this. There's a London-based sequel on the way, but the filmmakers might be underestimating just how much the setting has to do with its success as it's tough to beat the sight of being able to just walk through the front door of a decimated White
House. As the better titled of the two recent White House attack movies, Olympus Has Fallen definitely won't inspire deep discussions about national security when it's over, but under its own terms, it's surprisingly smart and exciting.