OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, Radha Mitchell, Melissa Leo and Ashley Judd. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Rated MA 15+ (strong action violence). 119 minutes.
Well no, it’s not a documentary! Some of the antagonistic reviews seem to imply that it is, finding fault with the credibility and the picture of American politics. No, it’s an action entertainment, reminding many people in their reviews and blog comments that it is a Die Hard at the White House. And reminding audiences that in this genre, no matter how great the disaster, no matter how devastating the effects, there is always the enterprising individual, courageous, tough, do-or-die, who is going to save the day.
However, in this action show, the devastation is far more than might have been expected. The Secret Service uses code names for the American president and various official personnel. The White House is obviously an Olympus but we don’t expect any Olympus to fall. But here, it does.
Most people who go along to this kind of film are not expecting realism. What they want is an adrenaline-pumping entertainment. And this one is.
The villains are from North Korea. But they are not part of that government (some diplomatic caution here). They are a terrorist group with their own agenda, led by a man who suffered at the hands of south Korean and American military intervention. His intention is to take over the White House, and of the president and other officials, turn back the Seventh Fleet from the Indian Ocean, withdraw all American troops from South Korea, and take possession of the nuclear installations in the United States. It’s not meant to spoil information about the outcome of the film, but he nearly gets there. As portrayed by Rick Yune, he is an intense 30-something mastermind, with an extraordinary master-mind, who has a propensity for violence and torture.
However, he hadn’t counted on Gerard Butler as Mike Banning, with special services training, who has served on the Secret Service attending the president. (On this showing, Gerard Butler should have been cast as Jack Reacher rather than Tom Cruise). A friend of the president, a literal sparring partner with him in the gym, he is a good friend of the president’s son and an admirer of the president’s wife. However, in the prologue to the action, a dreadful accident happens on his watch and he is relegated to a desk job. Fortunately, he looks out the window and sees the Korean invasion, hurries to the White House, gets inside and, despite some setbacks, saves the day.
The tone of this review might seem a little tongue-in-cheek. But that is the style of the treatment of the film, despite its seriousness and intensity.
The film has an excellent cast with Aaron Eckhart as the president, Morgan Freeman as the speaker of the house who has to take over, Melissa Leo as the secretary state, Angela Bassett as head of security, Robert Forster as chief of staff, and a cameo by Ashley Judd as the president’s wife.
Koreans are emerging as a staple, enemy for American films. Red Dawn, GI Joe: Retaliation. With the threats of the North Korean president at the time of the film’s release, American audiences may have been a little more apprehensive than usual. But what takes place in the film, the plane flying in to Washington, DC, the terrorist group having more arms than one could reasonably expect, the attack on the president of South Korea, the siege of the White House and the numerous and deaths of police and Secret Service agents, could have the audience is more than alarmed. But, our later reflection on security, border control, homeland information, the tale seems really far-fetched. Or one hopes so.
In the meantime, it is entertainment for action fans, though some of us may feel a little guilty animosity towards the United States as it seems to be getting a little of what we feel it has imposed on others. Later in the year we’re promised a film entitled White House Down with an even bigger budget than this one.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out April 18 2013.