Air Force One

Air Force One. Radiant Productions 1997.

Before watching the movie:

Ah, 1997. A simpler time when the President of the United States could recognize and deal with a Russian threat.

It’s pretty clear that this is trying to be in the spirit of the Jack Ryan movies Harrison Ford was in, but even though apparently in the books Jack Ryan spent time as the US President, this is not a Jack Ryan story.

After watching the movie:

Following a US/Russian joint operation to depose the dictatorial General Radek of Kazakhstan, President James Marshall announces that, having toured the refugee camps housing those displaced by Radek’s regime, effective immediately the United States will no longer wait until it is in their political interests to act against tyranny and terrorism, but will proactively move to root it out anywhere it exists, telling those who are like Radek to “be afraid”. As Air Force One prepares to leave Moscow, with Marshall brushing off the fallout from his unilateral decision, a group of Radek loyalists posing as journalists make their way onto the plane. Once in the air, with the help of a mole in the Secret Service, they take control of the weapons locker and then the aircraft, managing to take the cockpit in time to abort an emergency landing. The Secret Service manage to get Marshall into the escape pod, but because his wife and daughter aren’t in it with him, he leaves the pod before it’s deployed and hides. As the Vice President and the Defense Secretary debate how to handle the situation in Washington, President John Marshall is going to take his plane back.

This kind of speaks to the way that pragmatic government has grown into the opposite of everything a decent person should do. We’re entirely on Marshall’s side when he announces that the US will not hesitate to use military force to end oppression around the world, but everyone around him wants to remind him that it will be expensive in terms of political and diplomatic capital as well as military funding, and after all, as much as we all want to end oppression in other places, that is essentially forcing our values on other sovereign nations. All of the action of the movie relies on Marshall not doing what the President is supposed to do. Much is made of how cowardly the use of the escape pod would have been, but the reason it’s there isn’t for the big boss to save his own neck, it’s for the country to retain continuity of leadership in the crisis that caused him to evacuate. At several points, he makes the selfish choice to save his family that most of us would have made, but someone with a leading world nation on his back should not.

The pacing of the final act feels a bit unbalanced. Once the plane is retaken and the critical macguffin disposed of, there’s still another action sequence to go. Of course, with all the plane has been through it makes sense that landing wouldn’t be easy, but there’s a series of surprise turns for the worse that don’t feel necessary since the major threat of the movie is already past.

I really enjoy Goldsmith’s main title. It’s majestic and presidential, and carries the weight of a nation’s pride. However, sometimes the tension/fight music sounds like the same motif I’ve heard in dozens of other movies, not all of them scored by Jerry Goldsmith.

Marshall acts the way we wish we could, the way we wish our leaders could. It’s not practical, and it gets people hurt, but it feels wrong to do otherwise. In reality, going with our collective gut doesn’t always work out nearly as cleanly, but we can dream.

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