Bottom Line: Ford (Harrison, not Gerald) is the President in this high-flying, patriotic action movie.
“Get off my plane!” –Harrison Ford as President James Marshall
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Harrison Ford
Discrete action film opens when Air Force One, the plane used for transportation by the President of the United States, is ready to take off. At the last minute, a few men try to board the plane, and are granted access. Something seems suspicious about them from the moment we first see them, and once we hit the twenty-minute mark of the movie, we know we’re right: these men are a group of Russian terrorists led by a man named Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman). They used fake ID’s to board the plane and have stolen the weapons carried on the plane for safety purposes. Within a few moments, they have the entire plane held hostage, except for fictional U.S. President James Marshall (Harrison Ford), whom they plan to ultimately assassinate. Back at the White House, the Vice President (Glenn Close) is receiving information about what is going on and making an effort to save the President.
By now, we know Wolfgang Petersen as someone who has a fondness for making motion pictures about danger at sea. His directorial credits have included DAS BOOT, a German war epic about the crew of a U-96 boat; THE PERFECT STORM, a disaster movie about the Andrea Gail fishing vessel struck by a hurricane; and POSEIDON, a tedious remake of 1972’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Looking at the almost-fifteen-year-old AIR FORCE ONE, he should stick to plane mayhem instead. I have yet to see DAS BOOT, but I was disappointed with THE PERFECT STORM, and I try not to talk about how big the question mark hanging over my head was when I watched POSEIDON. The level to which his thrills elevate in AIR FORCE ONE is insurmountable. We could give this nod to Harrison Ford, as well. The best of his career has consisted of nothing but pure excitement: WITNESS, STAR WARS, BLADE RUNNER, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, to name a few. Even in the worst of his movies, his performances have always been strong and brave. Of any actor famous from the ’70s onward, he would be the absolute first pick as a role for the President of the United States.
If you look at AIR FORCE ONE at a deeper level than what it is on the outside (a heavy actioner that owes a lot to DIE HARD from less than a decade earlier), it’s even better. We have Glenn Close, one of the movie’s three phenomenal lead names, as the Vice President of the United States. When we first see her, we assume she’s the First Lady, but when she mentions her position, it seems quite interesting. I, personally, found it funny (though I know others probably won’t) that Harrison Ford was cast as a President, and one of our Presidents shared his surname. It was like casting Kevin McCarthy for a lead role in the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, a clear warning message at the time about Senator Joseph McCarthy. Those who aren’t willing to notice those subtleties (there’s a few more!) will still love this film for what it is: a heavy actioner reminiscent of DIE HARD.