Category Archives: Political Thriller Films

Air Force One-1997

Air Force One-1997

Director-Wolfgang Petersen

Starring-Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close

Scott’s Review #1,085

Reviewed November 21, 2020

Grade: B+

If ever a straight-ahead, summer blockbuster, popcorn flick ever existed, Air Force One (1997) is it. Surprisingly, this is not a bad thing. It’s not cerebral, but it’s never dull. The film has hooks and muscle, and assembles a thrill ride, edge-of-your-seat action fest. Some would say this is just what the doctor ordered, and they’d be right, provided the mood is for a mind escaping, meat and potatoes affair.

Air Force One is pure Americana. With a patriotic musical score and a clear hero and villain, it’s easy to know who to root for. Suspension of disbelief is mandatory since some scenes are as implausible as Santa Claus really shimmying down a chimney on Christmas Eve, but the film is entertaining and fun. The action is non-stop.

At the tail end of his prime action star years (the 1980’s and 1990’s), Harrison Ford stars as the president of the United States of America, James Marshall. After making a bombastic speech in Moscow vowing never to negotiate with terrorists, a group of them led by the dastardly Ivan (Gary Oldman) hijack Air Force One with the president and his family on board. Marshall, a former soldier, hides in the cabin of the plane and races against time to save his family and those aboard the flight from the terrorists.

The plot is implausible and hokey and reeks of plot points to carry the story along, but surprisingly, the film works. There is no way a president would ever race around performing stunts aboard an airplane, conquering the villains like clockwork. But Ford has the charisma to make us believe it could happen, and his character is a family man, a Vietnam veteran, and a Medal of Honor recipient. Can this guy be any more perfect?

Oldman, always reliable as a villain, is perfectly cast. His character’s motivations are simplistic and nationalistic. Ivan believes that the collapse of the Soviet Union has ruined his country and somehow it’s the fault of the United States. The reasoning is silly, but it’s in keeping with the patriotic nature of Air Force One- the us versus them mentality. United States is good; Russia is bad. It’s what middle America wants, and the target audience of this film is clear. Back to the Cold War.

Wolfgang Petersen, who directs the picture, knows his way around the action genre. After all, he crafted the memorable Das Boot (1981) and Outbreak (1995). The film has a Tom Clancy-Patriot Games meets Die Hard (1988) style. Petersen meshes the score with the quick editing style to layer the film with more action than slowed down conversational scenes. We know how it’s going to end but enjoy the ride.

Looking closely, the film is not just for the guys. Glenn Close is cast as a female Vice President and a strong gender twisting presence. Kathryn Bennett is a bold, careful woman and the implication is that she is more than capable of taking over should anything happen to the president. Her scenes mostly take place in the White House Situation Room and provide a nice calm as she is pressured by Defense Secretary (Dean Stockwell) to declare the president incapable. The scenes between Stockwell and Close are very strong.

Air Force One (1997) is cliché-riddled and mainstream Hollywood creation to the max. Both the pacing and the pulsating style make the film a guilty pleasure and is quite enjoyable. When the mood strikes to kick back and relax with a fun, action-packed affair, this one is your choice. Just don’t dissect the details too much or expect real-life to mimic art.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound, Best Film Editing

The Mackintosh Man-1973

The Mackintosh Man-1973

Director-John Huston

Starring-Paul Newman, James Mason, Dominique Sanda

Scott’s Review #1,058

Reviewed August 31, 2020

Grade: B

The Mackintosh Man (1973) is not one of legendary director John Huston’s best films. Known for well-remembered titles like The African Queen (1951), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and The Misfits (1961) that all movie historians and fan buffs are familiar with (or should be), this project is rather lackluster, only picking up at the very end to offer a riveting ending. The rest is mediocre, suffering from a terribly weighted down plot, a lacking romance, and little in the way of answers or good wrap-up.

If this sounds too harsh I will say that anything starring Paul Newman is worth seeing. Huston hit the jackpot in the casting department and the actor provides enough to raise The Mackintosh Man’s status to an adequate “B” ranking. I hate the title as it took days for it to stay in my memory. Huston attempts to make the film a taut thriller which at times is achieved especially during the climax, and mix humor, but the funnies rarely come, only getting in the way of what would have been better in a darker vein. It feels like a weak attempt to turn Paul Newman into James Bond.

Back to Newman. With his handsome face and icy blue eyes, he makes any film compelling, but I never really bought him in the role. This could be because of how the character is written. Newman is an American actor who plays a British secret agent pretending (sometimes) to be Australian. This is a busy ask even for an actor of Newman’s caliber. He was much better in Alfred Hitchcock’s critically panned, but well-aged, Cold War thriller, Torn Curtain (1966) in a similar role. Dominique Sanda, brilliant in The Conformist (1969), has little screen time until the finale at which time her character finally shows depth.

Newman plays Joseph Rearden, a British intelligence agent tasked with bringing down a communist spy ring. After purposely getting himself tossed in a high-security prison, he breaks out of the joint in an escape arranged by a mysterious organization. Rearden then tries to track the group’s activities and unmask its shadowy leader played by James Mason. On paper, the premise sounds quite appealing and with Newman, Mason, and Sanda in pocket my expectations were lofty, but not met.

I am not painting the film as bad by any means, just not as good as I anticipated. Certainly, some aspects work. Reardon’s time in the prison is appealing and might have influenced the not yet made Escape from Alcatraz (1979). When a male prisoner makes a pass at Reardon on the lunch line asking Reardon if he’d like to dance with him, he is kindly rebuffed. Does the prisoner cleverly respond with “maybe in a year or two”? The scene is played for laughs but also contains a sweet innocence. The Mackintosh Man is not a film where a scene like this can be interpreted as anything more than re-affirming Reardon’s (and Newman’s) masculinity, though.

From there, we get back to business.  He meets a convicted Russian spy and the two conceive a successful prison break. How they escape so easily is hard to swallow, but they apparently have help from an organization.  After the breakout, Reardon finds himself drugged and sent to Ireland. It turns out that the escapade was organized by Mackintosh in the hopes Reardon could infiltrate the Scarperers and gather information on the group’s leader, Sir George Wheeler (James Mason), and prove him to be a Russian spy. Just writing this out feels too confusing which is the film’s main problem.

Reardon has a flirtation with an eccentric tall, bad girl straight out of a Kubrick film before connecting better with Mrs. Smith (Sanda) and culminating in a harrowing climax aboard a luxury yacht with the gorgeous backdrop of Malta. The sequence almost makes the rest of the film forgivable as a lot of action suddenly develops and the landscape is gorgeous. A deadly and unexpected shooting occurs after an incident involving drugged champagne or white wine.

I advise watching The Mackintosh Man (1973) with the knowledge that the slowness and the confusion of most of the film are worth watching for the fantastic finish. Events and plot points may not necessarily all be spelled out, but the yacht scene and Malta locales are tremendous. Newman clearly carries the film with good acting from Mason and Sanda supporting the star.

The Manchurian Candidate-1962

The Manchurian Candidate-1962

Director-John Frankenheimer

Starring-Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey

Scott’s Review #852

Reviewed January 3, 2019

Grade: A

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is an enthralling film that perfectly captures the political landscape of the time and continues to be relevant in present-day politics. Taut, mysterious, and filled with great twists and turns, the film flows at a nice pace and climaxes with a shocking crescendo. With compelling performances by all and a brilliant musical score, the film fires on all cylinders and can be watched and enjoyed repeatedly.

Events begin in 1952 during the bloody Korean war. A United States platoon consisting of several men are accosted by the Soviets and sent to communist China for experimentation. Three days later the men return as if nothing happened and Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is proclaimed a hero and awarded the Medal of Honor for saving the men’s lives. When the war ends the men return to the United States to resume normal lives.

Years later Captain Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) suffers from recurring nightmares in which Shaw murders two missing soldiers in front of a panel in a bizarre brainwashing demonstration. When another soldier in the platoon has the same nightmares Army Intelligence begins an investigation. Further complicating the plot is Raymond’s ambitious mother Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury) and her attempt to guide her husband Senator Iselin (James Gregory) to further power using any means necessary.

The Manchurian Candidate is a film that requires the utmost attention to fully appreciate and understand the events. The plot is highly complex, but that is a testament to the composition of the film and hardly a complaint. The viewer must stay on course to appreciate the intricate details. Director John Frankenheimer is fantastic at adding unique dramatic effects and imaginative film-making. A prime example is the brainwashing sequence as dialogue is interspersed between what the soldiers think is happening (a peaceful grandmotherly horticulture demonstration) and reality (a dastardly experiment involving murder and programming).

Despite Sinatra being billed as the lead in the film the most treasured props go to Lansbury as Eleanor and Harvey as Shaw. Raymond is the character most developed and we see several sides to him. Primarily a morose loner who appears cold and harsh, this is due to his being programmed to assassinate. A sequence involving the love of his life, Jocelyn (Leslie Parrish), and a romantic summer they share is beautiful and innocent as it contrasts with the dismal and manufactured “new Raymond”.

Lansbury has never been cast in a more challenging role. Eleanor is determined to stop at nothing to ensure her husband will reach the presidency and connives and cheats her way to the top. Still, the part is written as such to avoid making her a complete one-note character despite her villainous ways. In an eerie scene close to the finale she vows payback for what has been done to Raymond and then plants an incestuous kiss on his lips. An odd and disturbing moment, the scene also justifies in her mind the lengths she has gone to get what she wants.

The musical score is lovely and contradicts the dour backstabbing and espionage that takes place throughout. Romantic and sweet melodies abound and classic hymns like The Twelve Days of Christmas and The Star-Spangled Banner are included in the film. As a result, The Manchurian Candidate’s score feels multi-faceted, patriotic as well as artistic with enchanting results.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is a stellar film with a perfect blend of thrills, deceit, politics, and creative film-making to make it a bold classic. The final sequence is jaw-dropping in its finality and brutality. Remade in 2004 with a great cast yet a poor script, avoid that one at all costs and enjoy the power and lasting effects of the original.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Angela Lansbury, Best Film Editing