Whether flying through hyperspace, cracking whips, or just desperately trying to remember who he is, Harrison Ford has created a plethora of memorable characters in truly outstanding films over the course of his Hollywood career. In 1997, Ford got the opportunity to play the President of the United States in Wolfgang Petersen's Air Force One, the result is not just a good action movie, but one of Ford's most unforgettable roles.
Ford stars as James Marshall, an ex-military man elected President who is returning from Moscow after making a speech outlining his administration's stance on terrorism. Unfortunately for him, on his way home, his plane his hijacked by a group of terrorists led by Gary Oldman's Ivan Korshunov. Korshunov and his friends are more than a little perturbed by the fact that at the start of the movie Russian and U.S. Special Forces capture the leader of Kazakhstan, Ivan Radek, a general who has caused genocide and sponsored terrorism. Korshunov's plan is presented to the audience as a simple one – hijack Air Force One with some help from the inside and make the U.S. convince Russia to let Radek go.
The whole plan – while absolutely ludicrous if one takes these sorts of things seriously – goes exceedingly well, right until the terrorists lose track of Marshall and he does his best John McClane impersonation, taking out the terrorists one by one and doing his best to protect the hostages, which include several of his top advisors (and, for some reason, a Major played by William H. Macy). The terrorists attempt to fight back, but, well, you can guess exactly where the whole thing is headed, can't you?
Yes, on the face of it, the entire movie sounds like something that Hollywood puts out over, and over, and over again. Air Force One ought, however, to be thought of as the "best of breed." While movies like this have been made before it and continue to be made after it, the excellent production values (save the final CG crash, which, even if it is supposed to simulate what would actually happen in the situation looks terribly cheesy in comparison to the rest of the effects), the stellar performances by the entire cast, and Petersen's incredible ability to ratchet up the tension despite the fact that everyone knows exactly where the movie is headed all combine to make this a simply outstanding film.
One of the reasons this is the case is the squabbling that takes place on the ground inside the White House. The Secretary of Defense, Walter Dean (Dean Stockwell), and the Vice President, Kathryn Burnett (Glenn Close) find themselves arguing over who is in charge – they even call in the Attorney General (Philip Baker Hall), asking him to bring a copy of the Constitution with him – and the best course of action. The fight does not hamper their performance during the crisis, but is absolutely believable.
Of course, the film is really Ford's, and the few scenes between he and Oldman – who, as always, delivers an exceptional performance – are worth the price of admission by themselves. These are both actors clearly at the top of their games in the film, and could each hold the entire movie together without the other. The fact that they both appear, and appear so strongly, is a true boon for filmgoers.
The Blu-ray release of the film is good, but nothing truly special. Only one special feature accompanies it, a director's commentary featuring Petersen. The visual presentation, however, is quite a good one. The blood is just the right color red and the print, though grainy, is a clean one. The sound, while excellent with explosions, wind, and gunfire (especially in the surround speakers), is a tad troubling when it comes to soft dialogue, particularly Oldman's, which sounds somewhat muddled at times.
Air Force One is a straightforward action film elevated by its direction and performances. Even on Blu-ray, it'll have audiences standing and cheering when the outcome – which is inevitable from the moment the film begins – finally arrives. Watching the film, one can almost see a world where should Harrison Ford ever decide to make a run for President, it's possible that he could win simply by running a campaign in which this film is delivered to each and every American voter as campaign material. "You know who I am? I am the President of the United States." Indeed.