Gerard Butler in Olympus Has Fallen: Die Hard goes to Washington

by Mark Burger

Olympus Has Fallen is sheer high-concept, comic-book escapism in the tradition of Air Force One (1997), The Kidnapping of the President (1980) and especially Die Hard (1988). A lot of it seems familiar, but director Antoine Fuqua keeps the action percolating throughout. This isn’t a particularly great movie, but it’s sometimes an enjoyable ride.

The prelude to the film’s principal action is provided when Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, also a producer) saves President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) but is unable to save the First Lady (Ashley Judd) in a calamitous car accident near Camp David. Banning is understandably brokenhearted, but his route to redemption is right around the corner (well, 18 months later).

A band of kill-crazy Koreans (led by Rick Yune) lay siege to the White House and surrounding environs, taking Asher and several cabinet members hostage. It falls to Banning to infiltrate the White House, save Asher, save the day, and basically save democracy as we know it. As befits the genre, this involves quite a bit of running, jumping, shouting and shooting — and no fair guessing how it all turns out. (It’s hardly a surprise.)

Scenes of familiar landmarks such as the Washington Monument and the White House being demolished may seem exploitative to some viewers in the post- 9/11 landscape, but that’s ascribing far more weight to Olympus Has Fallen than it warrants. Despite the subject matter, the film is not without its fair share of unintentional laughs and silly moments, but they don’t hurt the film. Really, what could?

The terrorists make short, bloody work of capturing the White House, decimating the Secret Service and subsequently thwarting attempts to re-take the building… but they’re singularly unable to defeat one single man. Seems like old times, doesn’t it? And perhaps a few old movies, as well.

Performances, like credibility, are not this movie’s strong suit, although the actors do what they can under the circumstances. Butler is appropriately tough and buff as the indestructible Banning, Eckhart is a fairly stolid commander-in-chief (he spends most of the film with his hands tied — literally), and Morgan Freeman strides through the proceedings as the speaker of the house, carefully monitoring the situation from the Pentagon while undoubtedly picking up a princely paycheck. (He’s worth every penny.)

It’s an added bonus having a proverbial all-star cast on hand, although some actors have more to do than others and a few really needn’t have bothered given the insignificance of their roles. Freeman could have sleepwalked through his role and, indeed, might have done just that — but he always brings an air of gravitas, much as Angela Bassett brings an air of conviction to her smallish role as the head of the Secret Service.

Dylan McDermott has fun as a turncoat agent, Melissa Leo’s in prime flinty form as a resilient Secretary of Defense and reliable Robert Forster represents military intelligence (euphemistically speaking) as hard-nosed Gen. Clegg, butting heads with Freeman throughout. Radha Mitchell as Mike’s worried wife, Judd as the ill-fated First Lady and Cole Hauser as an equally ill-fated Secret Service agent add little more than name value. But it’s nice having them around in any case, if only briefly.