Monday, March 25, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen (2013/US)


Julien Faddoul

(0 stars)

d -  Antoine Fuqua
w - Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
ph - Conrad W. Hall
pd - Derek R. Hill
m - Trevor Morris
ed - John Refoua
cos - Doug Hall

p - Gerard Butler, Ed Cathell III, Mark Gill, Alan Siegel

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Rick Yune, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell

The context of violence in movies has been the drivel subject of the opinionated idiot since movies began. One could say that it is especially prevalent today in this modern terror-ridden world, but the topic in question seems to resurface every 20 months or so, certainly in my lifetime. The reason I use the word 'idiot' is because so many of these spectators and commentators never seem to understand what the movie that they decry is actually about. To be fair, all movies are violent. If you ask your local film critic if the movie they saw this week is violent, the answer is always yes. Unless, of course, if it’s animated (although even that, nowadays, is uncertain). The difference between why one film is disturbing and why one isn’t has to do with the context and psychology of the violence presented onscreen.

I can say unequivocally that I was very surprised and somewhat anxious at the way the violence in Olympus Has Fallen is presented. Surprised because I knew virtually nothing about the movie going-in and anxious because director Antoine Fuqua seems to waste a great deal of violent cinematic psychology on a movie about nothing. Explosions, gunfire and beatings are the catnip of this picture, which is to say that this picture is a fantasy, but, unfortunately, not a very good one.

The plot is this: North Korean commandos in a commandeered C-130 gunship have bombarded the streets of Washington D.C., assaulted the White House and taken the president hostage, played by Aaron Eckhart. Their evil leader, Kang (no joke, that’s his name) played by Rick Yune has something to do (or not) with the Pyongyang government. They claim to be a guerrilla society in favour of international righteousness and against globalization. The hero is Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent played by Gerard Butler, who is desperate for redemption for entirely senseless reasons that I’ll spare you from. Mike is the only one who can save America. Can he do it?

When the president is taken hostage in Olympus Has Fallen, the speaker of the House, played by Morgan Freeman, goes on national television and announces that "our government remains 100% functional.” This is a ludicrous statement whether said on-screen or off. But to imply that Olympus Has Fallen has anything on its mind on the level of political allegory would be false. This is a movie about heads being blown clear of shoulders and other gory imagery. None of which is particularly interesting, let alone affecting. It is instead strained incredulousness through violence.

One aspect in particular comes to mind: Melissa Leo, as the Secretary of Defence, throughout the film, is beaten to a bloody pulp until Mr Butler arrives to rescue her. She takes this punishment like a man, spitting bloody obscenities at her violators as well as the Pledge of Allegiance. If Mr Fuqua’s (and screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt)'s intention was to alert us psychologically to the violent consequences of living in such a world then why do they construct a scene so over-the-top (once again, she is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as she is being dragged by her hair) that all allegorical thinking is rendered forbidden. We can only think of the violence itself, and whether it is affecting (or “cool”) or not, which it isn’t. Mr Fuqua lives in the same world as we do so surely he knows such a scene fits the classification “over-the-top”.

Perceptibly Americans face factual coercions, as individuals and a nation. But to create such a fantastical film of this nature on the subject requires such a level of finesse that no one here brings. The best I can say for Mr Butler here, who co-produced the film, is that he is better in this than Playing For Keeps or The Ugly Truth or The Bounty Hunter or anything else he’s done in the last half-dozen years. Neither Mr Eckhart nor Mr Freeman seems particularly interested in being there, for both have done this kind-of thing far too often. While watching this movie I was reminded of other films of this nature from the past that, in retrospective, I may not have appreciated at the time. Independence Day and this film have a pictorial connection, to say the least. But Olympus Has Fallen is a dark (literally), dreary, humourless mess.