OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN Review

It is about time Gerard Butler went back to doing what he does best. After his breakout role in 2006's 300 the charismatic Scotsman resorted to taking every major script he was handed that unfortunately ended in a string of bad romantic comedies (The Bounty Hunter, The Ugly Truth) while venturing back into the action game with results that ranged from horrible (Gamer) to entertaining but empty (Law Abiding Citizen). It has been a good six years since Butler has made an entertaining and successful mainstream film (RocknRolla and Coriolanus serve as indie cred, but were never afforded the chances to reach as wide an audience). These thoughts come to mind after realizing just how numbingly entertaining his latest effort, Olympus Has Fallen turns out to be. It doesn't help that Chasing Mavericks and Playing for Keeps both of which opened late in 2012 and both of which flopped massively (the latter being absolutely trashed by critics) are still fresh on most avid movie-goers minds and that this was some kind of shot at redemption. Even with his track record against him and the current box office climate that has not seen early 2013 be too kind to R-rated action flicks, this new film from Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) has managed to capture that charm, that silliness, and that zeal present in so many action flicks of old that is as cliche-riddled as it is a solid, tense thriller with a plot only the movies could see fit to pull off. I like Butler and I liked his character of Mike Banning, but it didn't hurt the star has a good director and an outstanding supporting cast behind him helping make Olympus Has Fallen the best action flick of 2013 thus far.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) gets back in on the action in Olympus Has Fallen.
It would be just as simple to say that the film is about a group of terrorists breaking into the white house and how one man is determined to stop them. It would truly be that easy and any audience member would have no problem walking into the film with that brief synopsis in mind. Still, with that synopsis one could also think it was the upcoming Roland Emmerich film titled White House Down that concerns a Capitol policeman (Channing Tatum) called to protect the white house and the President (Jamie Foxx) when it comes under attack from a paramilitary group. Yes, there is another film coming out in a mere four months that will hue very closely to Olympus and so I will give credit where credit is due as the master of disaster Emmerich and his more appealing leading men will likely go down with the bigger success, but Fuqua and Butler have at least assembled a fun action film (even if it ends up being the lesser of the two) that was out first and will at least have that to say for it. Like last years Snow White showdown that had a lighter, more fun release in March and a more serious, adult take released in the middle of Summer, Olympus Has Fallen is the less hyped, less credible, more cheesy version we will see this year, but that doesn't mean it will take away the fun of the experience I had watching the standard story and bombastic action sequences unfold in front of me on the big screen. If you've seen the trailer for this film though you pretty much know every beat of it. Secret Service Agent Banning is forced into a desk job after choosing to save the President over the first lady (Ashley Judd), he witnesses the attack on the white house from afar and naturally jumps into action to save the day. I'm sure you can see where it all goes from there.

What director Fuqua does to inject some energy into the film though is really quite simple: he sticks to his guns. I mean that both figuratively and literally. Yes, the twists and turns of the script can be seen coming from a mile away and yes the performances and specifically the one liners are delivered with a wink and a smile at times, but in all of this there is a throughline of trying to push the limit on what the audience may or may not be able to handle. In the wake of September 11th the main source of America's grandiose entertainment was carefully watched over, specifically in the action genre, so as not to test the sensitivities of the movie-going public. Almost twelve years have passed and it seems that is enough time for the movies to show no regard for what might still arouse a few bad memories. In the scenes where the white house is taken under siege most of the surrounding areas, including several other monuments, are laid to waste by the invaders as well as including several graphic shots of machine guns being fired on innocent bystanders and the soldiers attempting to protect them. It is not only cringe inducing but it made me personally feel that maybe we weren't ready for it, at least not in the context of terrorists actually attacking the innocent in an attempt to make a bigger point about America and our government. No matter how patriotic the film might seem by shoving Butler's bad-assery down our throats, there is still that underlying fear that this could actually happen and the regard for human life, no matter what position they hold, should be greater than what is ultimately recognized here. This may seem off base or out of touch with the main point of the film being as it means to do nothing more than entertain and satisfy a thrill-seeking audience, but critical analysis is a channel to figure out the way movies or any art form make us feel and why. Olympus Has Fallen, as fun as it is, made me feel threatened, which added to the tension, but on the edge of my seat in an almost uncomfortable manner.

Angela Bassett and Morgan Freeman do their thing and help save the day.
What is the underlying charm of the film and what rescues it from being one bad reminder are the presence of so many well known faces and effortless albeit phoned in performances. Let's face it, Morgan Freeman is here to play the acting President because there is no one in the world who would mind if Morgan Freeman was actually President. Angela Bassett shows up because she is good at playing the strong woman who is in control and doesn't take any crap and that is exactly the type of personality she provides here. Then we have people like Melissa Leo and Dylan McDermott serving in smaller supporting roles that have critical bits but could have just as easily been played by an unknown. Radha Mitchell even shows up for what feels like less than five minutes of screen time as Butler's wife who works at the hospital and doesn't even know the kind of day her husband is having until after the debacle comes to a crashing end. Then there is Aaron Eckhart who looks like the epitome of what you think of when you say American President. His square jaw, his intense gaze, it all encompasses what made him so perfect to play the sleazy tobacco salesman in Thank You For Smoking but serving the complete opposite purpose here. Eckhart spends the majority of the film chained to a rail, but he actually has more screen time than I initially imagined he would at all which is a plus as the guy is a solid presence and helps bring a certain gravitas to the scenes in the white house bunker that might have otherwise been lost in the tongue and cheek tone. This is a film many have compared to the Die Hard series and most proclaiming this to be better than the lackluster A Good Day to Die Hard released last month (which I won't argue with) but also brings up the reason this film likely succeeds so much in the eyes of the mass audience; it is full of nostalgia; mankinds greatest weakness. Yet it works in the favor of Fuqua and his gang here as they feed off the action flicks of the 90's and have the audience yearning for more while reminiscing on the countless moments that inspired the ones they are currently watching.