Air Force One: A Classic Presidential Action Thriller

Harrison Ford in Air Force One. Courtesy of Sony/Columbia.

Air Force One holds up almost 25 years later and the film remains one of the greatest presidential action thrillers to grace the big screen.

Three weeks after the Russian-American capture of General Ivan Radek, President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) attends an event in Moscow.  At the dinner, Marshall also states unequivocally that the United States will not negotiate with terrorists.  Marshall makes the trip with his wife, Grace (Wendy Crewson), and daughter, Alice (Liesel Matthews).  The Marshalls are joined by several members of the White House staff.  It isn’t uncommon for members of the press to board the flight and this film is no exception.  In fact, it’s this policy that allows for the very action to take place.  This policy–and any opinions of it not withstanding–is what enables six Radek loyalists disguised as a media crew to board Air Force One.

Harrison Ford is one of our nation’s greatest action stars.  It’s not often that action films revolve around the President of the United States in a leading role.  Recently, such films have had the president in a supporting role rather than a prominent role.  This film may be almost 25 years old but it also makes one long for a classic action film that isn’t full of explosions at every turn.  In this case, Ford’s President James Marshall is adamant that his administration does not negotiate with terrorists.  When given the chance to escape to safety, Marshall refuses to leave his wife and daughter.  He stays behind and fights not just for his family but for the safety of every American aboard Air Force One.

The fight scenes are intense.  Ford is an actor that tends to do his own stunts and yes, this also includes holding on for his life on the plane’s parachute ramp.  Behind the camera, director Wolfgang Petersen keeps up with the action in the air and the commotion on the ground at the White House.  Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) holds ground at the White House.  That being said, there is some debate about the 25th amendment between her, Defense Secretary Walter Dean (Dean Stockwell), and Attorney General Andrew Ward (Philip Baker Hall).  Ultimately, it becomes a moot point as Marshall is able to retake the plane.

During the initial commotion, Marshall gets taken to the escape pod.  However, he ultimately stays behind and hides away in the cargo hold. The president calls White House with the satellite phone and the receptionist laughs him off.  One cannot help but laugh here!  This is the most comical part of the film.  The plot advances forward but only after the receptionist is able to trace the call back to Air Force One.  Sure, the moment is intense but how can you not laugh at it?!?

I’m not really going to get into the plot.  At the end of the day, the good guys win and the bad guys lose.  In between, there is a lot of action and Harrison Ford in full command as a more-than-capable President of the United States.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score is fully patriotic in every sense of the word.  The main themes are full of the brass horns that come to represent such scores.  I don’t want to say it’s a cliché but I feel like every film with a patriotic plot is required to have a similar main theme.  Meanwhile, Goldsmith also scores the action with percussion pieces.

Air Force One is a reminder that Hollywood doesn’t make them like they used to.

DIRECTOR:  Wolfgang Petersen
SCREENWRITER:  Andrew W. Marlowe
CAST:  Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Wendy Crewson, Paul Guilfoyle, William H. Macy, Liesel Matthews, Dean Stockwell, Xander Berkeley, and Glenn Close

Columbia Pictures opened Air Force One in theaters on July 25, 1997. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.