21 May 2013

Olympus Has Fallen (White House Taken)

I'm not sure what the exact title is; here it's called White House Taken, but the internet immediately redirects me to Olympus Has Fallen. ANYWAYS. My friend Daniel and I went and saw this because, quite honestly, we were hoping for something mindless with lots of explosions. Oh boy were we in for a surprise. Had I known the director was Antoine Fuqua (of Training Day), I might have realized that this was not so likely to be a big dumb movie, but these days I try to know as little as possible about the movies I go to see, so I was unprepared. But the movie sets the tone in the first 5 minutes. It is intense. Shit just got real, son. Before the movie started there was a preview for World War Z, and Daniel commented on how these disasters always seem to strike New York (where he lived for 10+ years), and we were chatting about how weird it is that post-9-11 Americans enjoy watching footage of their cities in rubble, but I have to say, there is an argument to be made that living in a world where terrorism is an increasingly real possibility, movies like this one do become a lot more intense. I think formerly, I would watch this movie with a sense of bemused distance, like whatever, this could never happen. But now, it's a lot more scary. It's not quite so close to home as to be genuinely unpleasant - but it's scary the way a roller coaster is scary. At least, this movie was. I mean, woof. Unlike so many political action films which are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively bloodless, this movie wracked up a serious body count in a completely unflinching way. It didn't drag the violence out so much that it felt like torture porn, but it was fairly ruthless in dispatching an awful lot of people.

One thing that was curious about the film was how many plot lines it set up and then dropped. As the tagline for the film tells you (there will be no spoilers in this review), the main guy is a "disgraced" former body guard. But to be honest, there is really no reason for him to be disgraced. It's a pretty minor plot point. The trailer sets this up as if it will matter, but if anything, it creates a few plot holes that don't quite check out. Similarly, certain objects or lines are deployed in such a thudding way that you're sure they'll matter later, but nope, not at all. It's sort of odd.

What made this movie so fascinating to me though - and I don't think this is giving anything away really - is how it actually evoked this question of whether the life of a handful of American political figures should be valued over that of millions of others. As Daniel put it, the absolute singularity of, say, the president. So, one way to look at this movie is that it simply asserts that yes, it is. But I wonder. In that, as I watched the film, I found myself thinking that in a way, it was actually suggesting the exact opposite, that a certain sentimentalism (one that is so typical to American action films) is a major vulnerability, and one that movies like this one tends to celebrate, and this is precisely what marks those movies as unreal and/or idealistic. And that, to me, is what made this kind of an amazing movie.

But even if you leave that hyperanalytical bit aside, it's a pretty thrilling film. I'm not a big fan of Gerard Butler, and I don't think he was actually all that good, and Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman were basically doing the same thing they always seem to do now. Melissa Leo and Angela Bassett were both good, though one kind of felt that it was overkill to put such talented performers in the movie. The special effects seemed just fine to me, I don't know what reviewers are complaining about. It's an exciting film. Maybe it's just that I haven't watched movies like this in awhile, I don't know, but I was fairly riveted.

No comments: