by Katie Gile
There are many things that most Americans take for granted. Food, shelter, water and culture are among them. But down the list, there is something we trust in so entirely, it’s barely an afterthought: national security. The pinnacle of our national security sits proudly in the Capital in the shape of the White House, or as the Secret Service call it, Olympus. But when that one “given,” that is the foundation of so many others is endangered, the real mess begins in Director Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen.”
The story begins as we meet Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), the head of the Presidential Guard. A good friend of the First Family and surrogate uncle to the President’s son Connor (Finley Jacobsen), his close relationship to them is ruined when disaster strikes.
A year and a half later, Banning is a security officer for the U.S. Treasury, floating by in a life removed from the one he knew. Meanwhile, his Secret Service buddies gear up for the arrival of a foreign ambassador at the White House.
It’s a seemingly normal day there as Secret Service agents wait around every corner, their ubiquitous presence casting comfort on government officials and civilians alike. But as is the case in the political world, something is rotten in the state of Denmark and the White House is plunged into terror and shrouded in blood in a matter of 13 minutes.
Banning comes to the rescue and finds the situation even worse than he imagined. Using his training and experience as Secret Service and an Army Ranger, he attempts to do what the U.S. armed forces were unable to: save the President.
But as House Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) puts it when the situation is bleak at best, “As a nation, we are never stronger than when we are tested.”
Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen” is a start-to-finish action fest. However, even with its shaky cinematography and pricy explosions, Fuqua’s movie is not brainless by any means. Telling a story much like the central plot of “Die Hard” on a massive scale, the political thriller is more deep than expected. Fuqua’s intelligent balance of brawn and brains, action and sentiment makes for a compelling adrenaline surge that brought the audience to cheers and applause. And it doesn’t futz around. Moving at what we imagine is the real-life pace at the Capital, “Olympus” wastes no time in getting to action. Even tiny touches like quick character introductions through subtitles emphasize that there’s no time for pleasantries.
The script, by screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, is a swift one. Though the essential idea has been done before, the rebirth of the idea in this politically relevant way kept it fresh and interesting. The script’s dynamism allows for warm sentiment, heart-wrenching tragedy, thrilling action and wily humor. The tone of the plot and dialogue is more serious than most action-driven films, giving us a window into the D.C. world. Even the inclusion of bad-boy lines and nose-thumbing sass worked in its favor. All these gritty, stylish moments do well to distract from the lack of dimension in some of the main characters.
It’s clear early on in the film that something major is coming. “Olympus” uses near-propaganda levels of Americana saturation, and to great emotional effect. Drenched in the glory of the red, white and blue, it instills national pride in all American audiences, no matter how resistant. And this national pride leads to heartbreak as the best and bravest are hopelessly outmatched by a well-trained and heavily armed foreign force.
Gerard Butler’s performance as Mike Banning was strong. Butler makes the most of his character, taking moments onscreen to establish character that seems to be absent in the script. His rugged, earthy demeanor is in full force and works very well for Banning, grounding him in these extraordinary circumstances.
Playing the President of the United States was Aaron Eckhart. Eckhart, whose resume is full of romantic leads and bad guys, was decidedly powerful and noble this time around. His character may have been written as something of an archetype, but Eckhart’s performance provided the emotional depth to give the President more of a pulse.
Morgan Freeman, who played House Speaker Trumbull, was delicious. Freeman’s take on the character was spot on, as Trumbull begins soft-spoken and reserved, then develops outspoken strength by the end. A real monument to honest acting, it was a treat to see the thoughts in his head as clearly as if they were our own.
And playing the terrorist Kang was Rick Yune. Yune’s presence was impressive, especially as his character reveals himself. Throughout the action-filled parts of “Olympus,” Yune’s quiet, menacing demeanor is both believable and instinctively alarming.
“Olympus Has Fallen” had a surplus of star power in its arsenal. Beyond the stellar performances of these men were Finley Jacobsen as Connor, Angela Bassett as Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs, Melissa Leo as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan, and Dylan McDermott as Forbes. Because the structure of the film was more of an ensemble beyond Butler’s performance, each member of the cast was very strong and brought the (assumed) well-oiled machine that is national security to life.
Despite the lack of dimension written into the characters, the performances by a large group of very skilled actors more than made up for it. Fuqua’s movie is an approachable nail-biter, asking thought-provoking questions as it goes and giving us a laugh every now and then. It’s a great time at the theater and a wonder that Fuqua didn’t hold out until July to release such a patriotic film.