'Air Force One': THR's 1997 Review

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1997's 'Air Force One'
Should prove cathartic for mainstream viewers who yearn for a decisive, gutsy executive branch of government.

On July 25, 1997, Sony unveiled the Harrison Ford actioner Air Force One in theaters, where it would go on to become a summer hit and collect $315 million globally. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below:

Harrison Ford lines up beside John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, rather than Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as a no-nonsense president who cuts terrorists no slack in Sony's Air Force One.

As a man-of-action commander-in-chief who follows his principles rather than public-opinion polls, Ford is inspirational and electrifying, bravely taking on a gang of terrorists who have commandeered his plane, Air Force One.

Chart a course of $100 million-plus grosses for this taut, high-flying film from director Wolfgang Petersen, and count my write-in ballot for Ford in the next presidential election. Although its carry-a-big-stick theme may cause limousine liberals to squirm, this pulsating political actioner should prove cathartic for mainstream viewers who yearn for a decisive, gutsy executive branch of government.

As seems to be tradition in recent president-centered entertainments, Ford stars as a Midwestern-bred chief executive who, like Michael Douglas in The American President, finds that the only drawback to his job is that he can't keep track of his alma mater's gridiron conquests in a timely fashion. Undeniably, he's from jock stock and has nailed down a number of medals for his heroic service in Vietnam. In short, don't tread on this guy, and especially, don't mess with his family, namely the first lady (Wendy Crewson) and first daughter (Liesel Matthews).

Andrew W. Marlowe's scenario is crafty and well-crafted from the post-Cold War front pages, credibly emanating from the chaos in the former Soviet Union. In this narrative extension, terrorists posing as Russian journalists take over Air Force One as it heads back to Washington following the president's from-the-heart speech to Russian dignitaries promising that the USA will no longer tolerate human-rights violations and will not negotiate with terrorists.

That promise is immediately tested when Air Force One is taken over by terrorists demanding the release of the fascist general in Kazakhstan (Jurgen Prochnow) who has been captured and imprisoned as a result of joint U.S. and Russian cooperation. Although Marlowe's dialogue contains some expositional clunks, it also sizzles: An honorable mention in the "Make My Day" category of best macho one-liners for Ford's snarl — "Get off my plane."

No director can generate more thrust in a contained space than the German-raised Petersen. He packs as much explosive wallop in the enclosed space of a jet plane as he did in the cramped confines of a submarine (Das Boot). Petersen's direction is kinetically charged, using every inch of space and every aesthetic to jet- propel this small-set actioner into big-screen dimension.

While there's no discounting the thermodynamic power of the technical team, it's the players who make this story-load fly. Let's start with a hail to the chief: It's hard to remember when someone acted so presidential. As the chief executive, Ford is forthright, charismatic, brave and honorable.

Similarly well-cast is Gary Oldman, who layers his role with just the right amount of megalomania and martyr-envy.

Packed and tightly wired with no narrative slack, Petersen and his expert technical team have fused an explosively powerful human drama. Highest praise to cinematographer Michael Ballhaus for the tight framings and sharp slants and editor Richard Francis-Bruce for triggering the white-knuckle cadence. — Duane Byrge, originally published July 18, 1997.