Posted March 31, 2013 by D. K. Holm
What justifies the continued existence of Gerard Butler on our screens? He has made some 50 films, and the only a couple of them have cracked $100 million, one of them using only his voice (How To Train Your Dragon), the other one in which he is barely distinguishable from the numerous other men bearing their chests (300). Meanwhile, some of his pictures have garnered box office only in the low three figures. He has appeared in gangster movies, romcoms, Shakespeare adaptations, and action films. Yet I doubt if most moviegoers really know who he is, and though most actors have some sort of fan club, I can’t imagine his being particularly vigorous. Yet he continues to make 3 to 4 movies are year. Whence this Hollywood addiction to the presence of Gerard Butler?
His latest is Olympus Has Fallen, a right-wing siege fantasy in the Die Hard mode – as every other reviewer has noted. Here, a contingent of disguised and supposedly North Korean soldiers take the White House in an effort to destroy America’s ballistic missile network. Only a lone, disgraced Secret Service agent (Butler) can penetrate the nation’s living room and take it back.
The film is long on violent action, and generally hews to the emotional ups and downs of the siege genre with a premise not unlike In the Line of Fire, consisting of a prologue, a subsequent set up, a long opening action scene, a lull as the good guys regroup, and then more action as the film climbs to its final confrontation. The film hits the siege movie high notes and clichés, mostly derived from Die Hard, including the meeting between hero and villain in a byway of the building, and phrases such as “Welcome to my house.” Being modern, the film also replicates moments from 9/11. A plane flies low over Washington, D. C., and the Washington Monument tumbles down in the fashion of the twin towers. Too soon? Aaron Eckhart plays a Bush-like president, and his envoy speech at the end replicates some of the vague mumbo-jumbo circulating in the days of 9/11.
The film also continues cinema’s obsession with torture as interrogation. One of the more disturbing scenes in the film is the questioning of Melissa Leo, playing the Secretary of State.* Her brutal beating seems to stand in both for the weird rage against Hillary Clinton, and maybe even to Leo herself, who made a spectacle of herself in campaigning for an Oscar, and then dropped the F bomb when she picked up the award. Yet at the same time, the film includes a terrific anti-government speech by Dylan McDermott. It’s one of those ambiguous, Coppola-Patton speeches that can be taken however the listener wishes, but in it he attacks the president as a tool of Wall Street, so it could be either a OWS tract or a Tea Bagger rant.
As I type this, North Korea has just declared a state of war between itself and its southern cousin. In the run-up to a war, America’s future enemies are often vilified in Hollywood’s feature films. James Cameron’s True Lies presented Arab terrorists as a prelude, consciously or not, to the first Gulf War. Since wars seem to come in pairs — two against Germany, two against Iraq, and roughly two wars against Vietnam and Afghanistan — perhaps we are gearing up for a conflict with North Korea, the second. Movies such as this one and the remake of Red Dawn may be seen as helping that cause. Even though in one twist in Olympus, it is terrorists and not North Korea per se behind the attack.
The career of director Antoine Fuqua is one of mesmerizing ambiguity. After the usual internship in music video, Mr. Fuqua made a first claim on big screen cinema with a Hong Kong action knock off (The Replacement Killers), followed by an “urban” crime thriller with Jamie Foxx (Bait). Mr. Fuqua then attracted Oscar attention with Training Day, whose limited virtues may be attributed more to screenwriter David Ayer, who specializes consistently in the dark side of police enforcement. Tears of the Sun was a Three Kings variation, and then curiously Mr. Fuqua moved into documentary (Lightning in a Bottle), and of all things, a medieval action tale (King Arthur), followed by another doc. Shooter was an adaptation of a Stephen Hunter novel, one from the general Lee Child school of books, a film with an interesting cast, but that was followed by a return to Training Day tropes in Brooklyn’s Finest. The only tone that seems to connect all these tales is a concern with men in conflict with the irrationalities of their institutions. None of these films was particularly breathtaking at the box office, so Mr. Fuqua’s prominence is as equally mysterious as Mr. Butler’s. Perhaps at some point when their talents are finally exhausted, they will take it on the arches – unless those have fallen, too.
* The film has a terrific cast including Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott , and Radha Mitchell, but most of the players are poorly or only briefly used.