Air Force One is a 1997 action political thriller directed by Wolfgang Peterson and starred Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell, and Paul Guilfoyle. When a group of terrorists hijacks Air Force One, it is up to the president to mount a daring rescue to save everyone by retaking his plane.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve sat down to watch a good old-fashioned 1990s action flick in the same vein as classics like Die Hard and The Matrix. While it may not reach the same highs as those films, Air Force One is still a very well-crafted thrill ride. Just like Die Hard, much of the bulk of the action takes place in one location. This type of premise has, more often than not, is a goldmine for providing good setpieces, as it forces our hero to use everything at his disposal with limited resources and being on the run.
Speaking of the hero, Harrison Ford is a reliable leading action star, as expected. Bringing his usual charism and humanity into the role, President John Marshall is a straightforward character that the audience can root for. Forced to make split decisions constantly while being pushed into a corner, he always sticks the route that stays true to his moral fiber and the people’s safety. Though sometimes they are not without repercussions, and Ford’s reactions when things go south add some gravitas that could have been missing had it been a lesser actor.
The source of the film’s conflict comes from Egor Korshunov, played by Gary Oldman. Along with the Fifth Element and Leon: The Professional, this is one of the roles that cemented Oldman in some eyes as the villain actor. And for a good reason. In what could have just been another generic action villain, Oldman infuses Korshunov with so much passionate fury that makes both an intimidating presence as well as someone whose motives we can understand. The film even toys with the idea that both Marshall and Korshunov aren’t so different when it comes to intentions, though the differences are made clear when they apply their own ideas into action.
Truly all of the cast deliver here from Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson, Wiliam H. Macy, etc. Nobody feels like a basic caricature due to the level of talent at display here. It plays well into one of the film’s biggest strengths. In that form inside and outside the plane, there are various viewpoints within the U.S government in how such a terrifying situation, what is the best solution? As stated earlier, the intents are the same, but their choice of action couldn’t be any different. While Air Force One provides its own answer in the spirit of a 1990s action flick, it does give enough leeways to other routes as a potentially valid answer when the circumstances are so dire.
Through Peterson’s confident direction, the setpieces truly shined. After sitting through some of the messiest disasters in editing I’ve ever seen, it’s refreshing to see action that’s both easy to follow while still being tense and full of high-stakes. There is so much fun use of the cat and mouse premise that it keeps shifting the methods that Marshall can use to stay on top of the situation. And it just knows when to throw a curveball at what seems like the best or worst possible time to keep the momentum going.
Air Force One is a finely well-tuned machine when it comes to delivering compelling thrills; it still is very much imperfect, though not in any way would I say anything that harms the film to a significant degree. The CG, for instance, very much looks like what you expect from a film that came out in 1997, though it also makes the wise choice to mask most of it by having the film’s action set in a nighttime setting, though it becomes self-evident when it’s used in a daytime location.
I also really started to feel the length at the film’s tail-end during the last 20 minutes. Though it’s, for the most part, enjoyable and well-performed, I could understand the argument that it could have been reworked or shortened to fasten up the pacing somewhat. Like I’ve said, these aren’t any major issues that harm the film in any serious way, but just the little details that can start pilling up at some point.
Though I must ask if there are any other movies where you had Harrison Ford during his prime in the role as the president of the United States fighting terrorists while 30,000 feet in the air? Air Force One is a very good 1990s action thriller filled with tense setpieces and a line-up of strong performances from a very talented cast. If you need a good ole fashioned thrill ride, then this is a must-see.