Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Dylan McDermott, Ashley Judd, Radha Mitchell, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Morgan Freeman and Ricky Yune
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Olympus Has Fallen is not just an action movie as much as it is one about a president, and because of that we, the audience, begin this experience with a score that seems derivative of a mid-90’s Sorkin movie. The rest of the movie has Antoine Fuqua’s muscular film-making but the score is one of many details that give away this feeling that he palpably does not have full control of it.
In Camp David, the virile US President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) and his wife (Judd) prepare for an event that doubles as a Christmas celebration and a reelection push. Asher’s Secret Service handler Banning (Butler) reminds them how much time they have left, and the fictional FLOTUS asks Banning which earrings she should wear. She chooses a different pair, and because of this she has to die. Actually what happens is a bridge accident that forces Banning to choose to either save Asher or his wife.
Eighteen months later Banning gets demoted – doing the right thing means that he still reminds Asher of the tragedy. The latter tries to move on with his second term, going through the routines after the Fourth of July. He talks policy with a selected few, and we know that someone within his inner circle (Leo) is his Defense Secretary because of the inter-titles, one for every major character.
This adds a layer of plausibility to the movie, which it shall desperately need when one considers what happens next. A North Korean paramilitary troop, led by a man who has infiltrated the high levels of the South’s government, invades of the White House – Secret Service Code: Olympus – the first invasion of its kind since we did it in 1812. The troop has wiped away most of America’s defenses except for Banning, who wants to rescue Asher, the latter held hostage by the North Koreans in the White House bunker. The troop’s attractive leader Kang (Yune) has political and personal history driving him to this point. He takes Olympus so he can demand the removal of American vessels and weapons within the international waters near North Korean territory. Living after 9/11 I kept reminding myself that again, all of this is plausible, but the CGI work here is so blatant and unseamless that it makes the premise seem like an insult to video games.
What seems like the surface of a big budget action movie is really what could be the year’s best half-unintentional comedy. The movie earns big points for casting over-actors and putting them in the same bunker. Leo stretches out her words and suffering more than Shatner could, showing off as much of her imperfect skin as decently possible, reminding her audience that she won an Oscar. Eckhart, going through that frat-bro phase in his career that began with Battle LA, twitchily turns his head in all directions, constantly looking like he’s trying to pass stool. Bassett – who is outside the bunker as Banning’s friend and right hand woman to the Speaker and Acting President (Freeman) – punctuates every sentence with the word ‘dammit’ as she has done for the past few years. And McDermott’s lines and deliveries seem like we might as well be watching another episode of American Horror Story. Some of you might know that I like my actors. And they bring laughs but they are so ironically bad here that they deserve ironic applause, too. Their uproarious performances have a way of making us feel something special in what could have been a boring Gerard Butler shoot ’em up movie.
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