“Communist radicals hijack Air Force One with the U.S. President and his family on board. The Vice President negotiates from Washington D.C., while the President, a veteran, fights to rescue the hostages on board.”

Director: Wolfgang Peterson
Writers: Andrew W. Marlowe
Staring: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Paul Guilfoyle, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Jürgen Prochnow
Release Date: July 25, 1997

“Did George W. Bush and Dick Cheney get their “We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists” mindset from Air Force One (1997). Probably not, but an we truly count it out?

President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) is man with steadfast values and high moral integrity. He wants to help eliminate dangerous threats from the world and he demonstrates both his will to work together but also swing a big stick when he joins forces with Russian President Petrov (Alan Woolf) to capture Kazakhstan dictator General Ivan Radek (Jurgen Prochnow). Besides having an awesome last name, Radek was also stockpiling nuclear weapons and vowed to send the world into a deep freeze with Cold War II.

Marshall is flying high with Radek behind bars and a newly established good relationship with the Russians. He delivers and impassioned speech that puts the world on notice in regards to America’s stance on terror and then hops on a plane to return home to due battle in D.C. regarding his drastic shift in tone in foreign relations. Marshall is ushered onto Air Force One where he is joined by his wife, his daughter, various military officials, and one very evil looking Russian news reporter Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman).

After Air Force One reaches cruising altitude, a rogue secret service officer by the generic name of Gibbs (Xander Berkeley) inexplicably kills three men, opens up the safe to the weapons and releases a smoke bomb. This is the sign that Egor and his news crew have been waiting for. Korshunov takes possession of the plane, commandeer the cockpit, and kidnap the majority of the individuals on board. President Marshall is ushered to safety down below and is thought to be put in an escape pod. But we all know that isn’t the case. Marshall tricks everyone, staying onboard the ship to safe his family, his friends, and in extension, the world. Maybe a bit dramatic, but still.

Korshunov has taken Air Force One because he wants Radek released from prison and returned to Kazakhstan. Korshunov communicates this demand with a room full of distressed Cabinet members in Washington D.C. Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) takes the lead on the phone calls and begins playing telephone chess with the hijacker, hoping to both buy time and find plausible solutions to this outrageous situation.

Air Force One plunges along and delivers all of this exposition within the first half hour, giving you still a full movies worth of action, drama, one-liners and zaniness. Can the president of the United States match his words and stand strong against terrorism all on his own? Will Korshunov be able to command Air Force One and keep it in the air long enough to ensure that he gets his deranged leader Radek out of Russian prison? Can Vice President Bennett keep her composure going up against a man with nothing to lose, and a divided Cabinet on the White House?

There are tumultuous jet streams all along the way, but director Wolfgang Peterson, and actors Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman ensure that it is anything but a bumpy ride. Air Force One takes off, picks up speed, and drops the viewer off at its final destination with a massive smile on their face and a fierce sense of accomplishment.

To put it plainly, Air Force One is fucking great.

You can put President James Marshall in the same universe as Jack Ryan. You could have made it President Jack Ryan. The vibe is so similar between Air Force One and the kin of Patriots Games (1992) and Clear And Present Danger (1994). It is a Tom Clancy vibe, but Air Force One is still able to make itself a unique adventure that has numerous outstanding stunts.

What do you need in a good action movie?

Well, a hero. Of course. Harrison James Marshall is fucking fantastic. He is a damn good president, and I will step out on the ledge and say that I would rather have terrorist bashing Marshall as my president than any other president. Yea, Bill Pullman is pretty darn good as President Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day (1996), but Marshall has “IT”. Both Marshall and Whitmore were in the Air Force, but I only see one with a Medal Of Honor…(it is Marshall).

Alright yea, the hero is important. But NO ONE. I mean NO ONE is more important then the bad guy. And what we have here in Air Force One is Ivon Korshunov, played fantastically manically by expert psychopath portrayer, Gary Oldman.

“Forgive me, I lied.”

Oldman nails the accent. Is it perfect Russian? No. Not at all. But who cares. It is what you picture when you picture an evil Russian guy. He literally is the stereotype. But he is so good that it doesn’t matter. It is great. When you have American man going up against Russian mad man, you need to lean into those tropes a little bit. Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford both do it wonderfully.

Here is a question I posed while watching Air Force One. I think it has a right answer, but I think it is worth talking through. Is Gary Oldman better in Air Force One, or Léon: The Professional (1994)? The answer is Léon: The Professional, but this man did both of these psychotic roles within three years of each other. Oh, and the same year as Air Force One he did The Fifth Element (1997) as well. This man thrived in absolutely zany character parts in the mid 1990s and I am all about it.

Glen Close is in her political mindset working it as Vice President Kathryn Bennet after being the First Lady Marsha Dale in Mars Attacks! (1996). The part of the VP is a little thankless because she is in one room and it is somewhat one dimensional, but damn if Close doesn’t make the most of her time on the screen. She has the scrunched down speaking into the pose down to a science, and her “fuck off” faces to her combative Cabinet members are wonderful. You are rooting for her when it comes down to the end, and when she shreds that paper, you want to cheer your heart out.

The other character that we need to talk about is Agent Gibbs (Xander Berkeley). He is the man who sets the whole plane in motion for the Russians on Air Force One. He is the man who betrayed his country and his president. Why? Well, that is not ever explained. I will admit that it is a bit of a hiccup in the movie. I would like to know why this Secret Service agent decided to side with the Russians. He gets his comeuppance in the end, and that is all that matters.

According to the script and director Wolfgang Peterson, “Gibbs was a former CIA agent who swore revenge against the American government after his career took a downturn following the end of the Cold War.” Is that really the reason Gibbs. Is that really why you went against your country?

There are some great moments in Air Force One, but none will make you laugh harder than the plane itself doing a hair point pin turn on a run way to not only avoid an air traffic control tower but then to also take off without a hitch. If you ask me it is picture perfect flying mechanics. Physics be damned.

Watch the end of this clip. You will see what I mean.

So perhaps the special effects were not the best in 1997. This really is the only gripe I have with the movie. Nothing to the fault of the people at the time. It is just a matter of technology advancing. Air Force One is a relic of its time with its formula and its technology, but that just makes it as charming as it is. In particular I need to point out the plane crashing into the ocean. That was the only time I had a hard time looking at it without wincing.

But in terms of the other technical stuff, Air Force One kicks ass.

Air Force One was nominated for two Oscars at the 1998 Academy Awards; Best Sound and Best Film Editing. It lost in both categories to Titanic (1997). I mean, we all bow down to James Cameron.

Side note, the tagline for Air Force One according to IMDB is “A Wolfgang Peterson Film.” It is the worst of the five options that are listed! It is way worse that “Harrison Ford Is The President Of The United States.” Ford is indeed “Impenetrable. Invincible. In Trouble.” Ford is so important that “The fate of a nation rests on the courage of one man.” Ford knows that the grammar doesn’t work on it “The most important man, the surest airplane, the most dangerous hijackers…”

STANKO RATING: A- (4.5/5 Stars)

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