March 21, 2013



OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN:  Watch It At Home – Better Luck in June

In Hollywood’s grand tradition of 2 movies about volcanoes, 2 about Snow White, 2 about Christopher Columbus and 2 about Truman Capote, this year we’re getting a pair of terrorist attacks on the White House, each foiled by a heroic Secret Service agent.  The deluxe version of the story will arrive in June with Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, featuring President Jamie Foxx and hero Channing Tatum.  For now, we have OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, a rather generic take on the idea made at a visibly cut-rate price.

Olympus gives us Gerard Butler (also one of the film’s producers) as Mike Banning, a character who emerged when screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt put Bruce Willis from the original Die Hard and Clint Eastwood from In the Line of Fire into a blender.  Mike, like Eastwood’s Frank Horrigan, was a brave agent who hasn’t gotten over blaming himself for a presidential incident in his past.  And like John McClane, he’s the only good guy around when the villains blow everyone else up.  In this case, those villains are nefarious North Koreans led by the evil Kang (Rick Yune), whose forces, with remarkable ease, slaughter all the security and military stationed at the White House and take President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) captive in his own underground bunker.  All is not lost, since the Acting President is Morgan Freeman–oops, I mean Speaker of the House Trumball, who’s merely played by Morgan Freeman.  And there’s unkillable Banning, making his way through the body-strewn hallways of the mansion.  Remember the season of 24 where Cherry Jones was President and Jack Bauer spent several hours protecting the White House from whoever that year’s baddies were?  Those episodes were more dramatically convincing.

We don’t ask much from movies like Olympus Has Fallen, just a little style, a  pace, some wit and maybe an unexpected twist or two.  But even at its best, Olympus manages no more than blunt efficiency.  Sometimes it’s far worse than that, as when the script ineptly tries to reprise iconic scenes from the original Die Hard like the one where Hans Gruber pretended to be an ordinary American businessman, and the mid-rescue call McClane made to his wife.  Or when even our heroes act like morons:  the President and his entire hostage staff can clearly see the terrorists running a super-sophisticated computer program to determine the random number-letter sequence for the top-secret Cerberus weapon (don’t ask), yet he instructs his people to disclose information that will make the task much easier (and then he’s shocked, shocked when the Koreans crack the code). Or the time spent following Banning as he rescues the President’s darling little son.  Even when the movie thinks it’s being original (the air vents, we’re told, have been shut down) it’s only to ramp up the silliness (there’s so much space behind the walls of this White House that Banning can stroll through them with impunity).

Director Antoine Fuqua, who in happier days directed Training Day, is clearly hampered by the budget he had to work with, as the CG for the attack on Washington is noticeably shoddy, and he’s not helped very much by his technical team.  The White House looks dingy as lit by cinemtographer Conrad W. Hall, and the set for the president’s bunker (production designed by Derek R. Hill) seems to have been constructed out of a combination of a sports bar and a Motel 6 lobby.  His own directing work is nothing to shout about either, relying on R-rated violence (lots of bloody vapor when people are shot in the head) instead of ingenuity.

Butler is certainly better here than he’s been as a romantic comedy lead, but he doesn’t bring much personality to the party, certainly not enough to compare with Willis, Eastwood or Kiefer Sutherland.  Eckhart mostly just looks agonized as the President, and at this point I think Morgan Freeman actually qualifies for campaign financing under federal law.  They, however, fare better than the movie’s women.  Ashley Judd is only briefly involved as the First Lady, Radha Mitchell is completely wasted as Banning’s worried wife (after this and Red Widow, Mitchell must want to flee back into indie movies), and the disparity between Melissa Leo’s presence and her role as the Secretary of Defense made me think some third act twist must be coming to justify her casting (it wasn’t).

Olympus Has Fallen may kill a few brain cells, but otherwise it’s a harmless mediocrity.  For entertainment, though, we’ll have to hope that Emmerich, Tatum, Foxx and company can deliver the presidential goods this summer.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."