With Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott, Angela Bassett. Written by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout. 119 minutes.
Part “Die Hard,” part “24,” with a dash of “The West Wing,” the action-thriller OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN asks you to suspend your disbelief. However, that’s not quite the same thing as checking your brain at the door. Yes, this is about one man up against a heavily armed group of terrorists, but if you’re willing to go with the flow, it’s a slick and engaging action film with some solid performances (although the violence may be a bit much for some).
In a prologue, we meet President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his wife Margaret (Ashley Judd), whose lives will shortly be changed forever. Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is the “special forces” veteran who heads up the president’s Secret Service team, and who will pay the price for what happens. Eighteen months later, Banning is no longer part of the detail although still in the Secret Service, so when a well-planned attack of the White House occurs, he races over there to be of use. This is where you have to suspend your disbelief: as agents and others are being cut to ribbons, Banning manages to start taking action.
The President is in a bunker beneath the White House, but the White House is now under the control of Kang (Rick Yune), a North Korean terrorist who is several steps ahead of the Americans, including the head of the Secret Service Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett), Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) who is now acting President, and the U.S. military. Oh, and the president’s young son is still loose in the White House as well.
If that’s not enough, there are plenty of plot twists in store. What director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) provides is enough plausibility that you don’t question the details until long after the houselights have gone up. The details ring true, and it helps to have a cast that includes those mentioned plus Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster, and Melissa Leo. As each new element comes into play you wonder first how Kang will respond and then what Banning’s counter-move will be. In one tautly-played scene, a rogue former Secret Service agent working for Kang is sent to take out Banning. Fuqua lets the tension build as we wait for the moment when Banning will realize what has happened.
Of the three leads, Morgan Freeman is the old reliable pro. It’s not one of his more memorable performances, but he’s just so good at it you don’t care. Eckhart is suitably presidential and has some moments where we see the man behind the title. The one who runs away with the film is Butler, who seems much more comfortable as an action star than he has in his less action-oriented films. He plays Banning not as a superman tossing off pre-fab quips, but as a solid professional who is doing what he’s been trained to do. Incredible as the proceedings are, his performance keeps the film grounded.
“Olympus Has Fallen” is the movie equivalent of the paperback thriller you bring to the beach or for a long plane trip. It grabs you from the start and then returns you to your seat two hours later. It’s a great ride.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.