The North Koreans had it all planned out.
They took control of the streets in packs after jumping out of vehicles for surprise attacks. They timed the bombing of the White House’s gate as soon as they all arrived at their checkpoint, ready to sprawl onto the lawn. The U.S. military tried to make a stand at the front door, but the Koreans had the right gear and firepower to blast their way in.
One of the best scenes of “Olympus Has Fallen” was when the Koreans executed this plan of warfare to perfection as they took control of the president and the White House. “Olympus” is a classic action film, but the action was on-point, direct and choreographed in a way that, at times, painted the bigger picture of the battle. It’s unlike most action films where the camera work is sloppy, the editing is poor and it becomes unclear what exactly is going on.
While the notion of taking over the White House sounds silly – it is, after all, one of the most heavily guarded buildings on the planet – the precision of the attack sort of neutralizes the disbelief of the whole notion.
“Olympus” definitely deserves its comparisons to “Air Force One,” the classic thriller that starred Harrison Ford as the president whose plane is taken hostage. This time around, it’s the White House that’s taken over. The Koreans’ primary goal is to force the United States to withdraw a stronghold in Korea. Doing so, of course, would undo years’ worth of fighting and sacrifice by the United States. If the United States don’t cooperate – and remember, we don’t negotiate with terrorists – then the consequences would result in nuclear detonation as a result of a brilliantly conceived plan by the Koreans. While the story can hit close to home with what’s going on in the real world today, especially with the real tension Korea has created, the film doesn’t seem too subliminally political in nature.
In the midst of the situation, the United States has an ace up its sleeve: secret agent Mike Banning. Played by Gerard Butler, who delivers a solid performance where he doesn’t overdo his toughness (like, say, Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis can do), but definitely gives a sense of confidence and tough-guy attitude, Banning is a former secret service agent who used to protect the president before a major incident (in the opening scene) relegates him to take a desk job. But when he gets called upon again, he shows he hasn’t lost a step (actually, there’s a funny scene where he has to “shake off the rust” while interrogating a couple Koreans).
One-man army movies (or video games, for that matter) aren’t usually that believable, but Butler’s performance gets as close as possible. The fact that he used to work in the White House helps with this; he knows all the tricks to the building, such as secret passageways and hidden safes behind pictures.
Another great scene of choreography is toward the end when the U.S. army uses night vision to scout the Koreans’ lookouts on the roof for a covert escape mission. Even when the lights are taken out or while outside during the night, the camerawork during the shootouts stands out.
And finally, going after the president – played by Aaron Eckhart (one of my favorites) – becomes the toughest mission of them all. Eckhart does a great job of portraying both the tough leadership role you’d expect from the president and the sympathetic role as hostages are beaten up or interrogated. There should’ve been more with Eckhart, especially with the rest of the hostages, played by great supporting actors who do a great job of showing their pain and torment of not giving in to the terrorists’ demands. Another comparison to “Air Force One” is when Morgan Freeman, who plays the secretary of state, is appointed to be acting Commander in Chief after it was determined that the president’s ability to rule had been compromised.
“Olympus” might not be a Hall-of-Famer, but the film’s direction, story, action and acting all are way above par and worthy of the big screen.