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Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: Olympus Has Fallen

Mr. Butler Goes to Washington

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: March 23, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Action, Thriller
Running Time: 120 minutes
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, 
Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, 
Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, 
Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Rick Yune

"Olympus Has Fallen" presents a nightmarish scenario for the United States: the White House has been overtaken by North Korean terrorists, the President and Vice President are being held hostage (along with members of their cabinet), the President's young son is the next target, and a series of nuclear launch codes are in danger of falling into the wrong hands.

Of course, as always, it's up to one man to save the day: Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a former Secret Service agent who is ex-Special Forces and has a Ph.D. in kicking ass. Luckily for him, the action is nonstop! This is exactly the kind of role Butler excels in. 

Banning is close friends with the President of the United States, Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). Is Asher a Republican or Democrat? I'm sure opponents of both parties will come up with negative reasons to pinpoint why he's one or the other. In a movie like this, it hardly matters.

If you saw Morgan Freeman on the poster and thought he was playing the President, well, me too. Instead, he's the Speaker of the House, Allan Trumbull. Freeman has the most trusted and authoritative voice in Hollywood, and it would be such a shame for him not to play to those strengths. Then again, whenever something happens to the President and Vice President... But I'll leave you, dear reader, to educate yourself on the White House's line of succession.

Aaron Eckhart actually dials down his considerable charisma to portray a less showy, no frills President. That, I suppose, is an easy way to convey to the audience that the Commander-in-Chief is a genuinely good person and not just another politics-as-usual talking head. He's a man of conviction who is fiercely devoted to his family. He loves his wife, Margaret (Ashley Judd), and son, Connor (Finley Jacobsen). I wish the part had called for Eckhart to be a bit more bombastic, but I understand the reasons for making this President fairly down-to-earth and ordinary.

There are some nice scenes involving Butler's character and the First Family that establish their close-knit relationship and deep, mutual love and respect for one another. He and the President are sparring partners who crack jokes while cracking knuckles in a boxing ring, and there's a strong bond between Butler and the President's son, who appears to be about 10 or 11. A little boy on the loose in the White House while it's under attack: that's certainly a cause for concern – and quite a bargaining chip for the bad guys if they find him first.

The North Korean terrorist in charge of the takeover operation is Kang (Rick Yune), and he means business!

Morgan Freeman does a superb job of playing the third wheel who wears the weight of the world on his weary face. He's completely in over his head – suddenly thrust into a high-pressure position he's ill-prepared for – but he has no choice but to press on and persevere against all odds.

There's another agent, Forbes (Dylan McDermott), who stays in the background assisting Butler's Banning. It might seem strange that such a magnetic performer would be cast in a seemingly disposable subservient role, but you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to piece this one together.

Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett) maintains a friendship with Banning. Bassett remains a dominant screen presence. 

Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan (Melissa Leo) is in the trenches with the President. No matter how big or small the part is, Leo always goes out of her way to look and sound different for every role she takes. She's never afraid to immerse herself in a character, even if it means appearing unattractive or unappealing. I'll confess that I didn't even recognize her until the credits rolled and her name came up.

Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, and Robert Forster round out the cast: Mitchell plays Banning's wife, Leah, who worries and wants to spend more time with her husband; Hauser is Roma, another agent; and Robert Forster's General Edward Clegg lends advice and assistance to Freeman's character.

"Olympus Has Fallen" is the kind of action movie Hollywood used to make so well but we rarely see anymore. It's a supremely satisfying smorgasbord of bloodshed, violence, and explosions. The bullets fly and the body-count is high.

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