Air Force One: Synopsis

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A terrorist group has taken an entire plane hostage, demanding the release of General Alexander Radek, a vicious tyrant who has been murderously exploiting the remains of a Russia in shambles. Unless their leader is released, the terrorists will begin methodically killing passengers. But if the demands are met and Radek is set free, hundreds of thousands more will certainly die.

One man must weigh the fate of his family, who is on board, against the fate of the world.

That man is the President of the United States. The plane is Air Force One.

Harrison Ford stars as U.S. President James Marshall in a heart-stopping action thriller from two time Oscar nominee director Wolfgang Petersen (In the Line of Fire, Outbreak). A Columbia Pictures and Beacon Pictures presentation of a Radiant production, Air Force One also stars Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Jurgen Prochnow, Wendy Crewson, Liesel Matthews, Paul Guilfoyle, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy and Dean Stockwell. Based on an original screenplay by Andrew W. Marlowe, the action thriller is produced by Armyan Bernstein, Wolfgang Petersen, Gail Katz, and Jon Shestack with executive producers Tom Bliss, Marc Abraham and David Lester. Two-time Oscar nominee Michael Ballhaus is the director of photography. William Sandell is the production designer, and Erica Phillips is the costume designer. The film is edited by two-time Oscar nominee Richard Francis-Bruce. Jerry Goldsmith, Academy Award winner for his work on The Omen, composed the score.

"You're not going to see Harrison Ford sitting behind a desk in the Oval Office in this movie," says director Wolfgang Petersen, whose previous films have shown the human side of war (Das Boot), the dilemmas faced by the U.S. Secret Service (In the Line of Fire) and the consequences of bacterial research (Outbreak). "This President is a man of action and there is no other actor who can match Harrison's combination of strength and intelligence in this kind of role."

United States President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) makes an impassioned speech to a room full of Russian dignitaries: no longer will the greatest power on earth tolerate human rights violations such as those recently suffered under the fascist tyrant General Radek (Jurgen Prochnow) in Kazakhstan. He praises the joint Russian-American commando raid that resulted in the capture of this brutal dictator as the opening salvo in an all-out war against political tyranny.

Later, the President joins his wife (Wendy Crewson) and daughter (Liesel Matthews) aboard his haven, his fortress, Air Force One. En route to Washington, the plane is hijacked by Radek loyalists posing as Russian journalists. They intend to force the release of their leader by holding the President hostage. The Vice President (Glenn Close) in the White House cannot reason with them and all the nation's military might is useless against them.

Notes Petersen: "Gary Oldman makes a perfect antagonist because he is a very bright man and it is the brilliance of the character that makes him especially ominous. And we are fortunate to have one of the great actors in the world as our commanding Vice President. Few actors with Glenn's presence can also project the complex layers of emotion experienced by this Vice President."

The burden of stopping these terrorists ultimately rests on the shoulders of one man: the President himself, who has secretly remained on board the plane. Academy Award-nominee Harrison Ford plays U.S. President James Marshall, a leader whose courage and convictions in standing firm against terrorism are put to the ultimate test when his own family is taken hostage aboard Air Force One. "This is a story about a President who has made a very decisive political choice based on his own deeply held beliefs," says the international star whose distinguished career includes such hits as The Fugitive, Presumed Innocent and the recently re-released box-office phenomenon, the Star Wars trilogy. "Those beliefs are tested in a dramatic way as the stakes suddenly become very personal. He must gamble with his own freedom to secure the freedom of his family and the other hostages on board a hijacked plane. And such is the power of his office that if he fails, the whole world is held hostage.

"What I found most interesting in exploring the role was the incredible responsibility that the President has - how there is no one moment in his life when he's not beholden to the country's welfare ahead of his own or his family's," notes Ford. "As I reflected on it, I was most impressed with the enormous burden of the Presidency. I also thought it was a compelling story with a satisfying sense of triumph at its conclusion. And the prospect of a collaboration with Wolfgang delighted me."

Though dramatized with the thrills of a non-stop action-adventure, Air Force One draws its inspiration from a very real contemporary dilemma. "Air Force One starts with a realistic premise and then, as I like to do in all my movies, creates thrills by heightening the reality," explains Wolfgang Petersen. "The reality of international terrorism has, unfortunately, become something we accept as part of modern life. But such acts are usually narrow in their focus and limited in their impact. We have created a scenario in which the success of a single terrorist act could have a drastic effect on the entire free world."

When first-time screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe came to producer Jon Shestack with the pitch for Air Force One, it was an idea Shestack couldn't refuse. The script was, in fact, exactly what the Beacon Pictures executive had been looking for.

"The challenge was to come up with an action movie that was unique and where was there left to go?" Shestack says. "Effects had gotten as big as they possibly can get; body counts had gotten as high as they can go. There really wasn't anything left except to make the action hero be the most powerful man in the world."

"There was never anyone else but Harrison Ford for this role," says Petersen. "He has the charismatic persona the President must have. He also has the intelligence and sense of humor that makes him likable. And, of course, he is totally believable when he has to fight back and get physical." The next challenge was to populate the cast with equally compelling actors. To portray Korshunov, the passionate and militant terrorist who holds the plane hostage, Petersen cast Gary Oldman, whose diverse performances in films ranging from Sid and Nancy to the recently-released sci-fi epic The Fifth Element, have garnered the actor universal acclaim. "Gary is very facile and technically skilled," notes Ford. "He is very powerful on screen and his menace comes with a disturbing ease. I had a ball working with him."

Despite the seriousness of his role, Oldman enjoyed the light tone that director Petersen maintained around the set. "I think it's important, if you're going to be working around a group of people for twelve weeks, that you're working for someone who doesn't take it all too seriously," says Oldman. "Wolfgang has a wicked sense of humor. He's also the boss, so I tend to laugh at all his jokes very loudly.

"With an action thriller, the energy has to be maintained at such a high level that it can be quite exhausting. It helps tremendously when you have someone like Wolfgang up there steering the ship who seems to have boundless energy, never looks tired and can crack a few jokes."

"While the two antagonists, Marshall and Korshunov, do not play many scenes together, it is the cat and mouse tension between them that sustains the action.

Producer Gail Katz notes that Ford and Oldman conveyed a crucial chemistry in playing two men with drastically different but no less passionate beliefs: "They are both highly intelligent actors and they're playing highly intelligent characters, each representing completely opposing points of view. They are sparring intellectually on the one hand and physically on the other. That combination of forceful individuals stepping into roles that allow them to exhibit their strengths really makes the movie take off."

The role of the Vice President was also one that required an image of strength and decisiveness. Close came to her part with a high degree of such credibility built into her public persona.

"The President and Vice President of the United States are very famous people," explains producer Armyan Bernstein. "So, the fact that Glenn is so well-known instantly secures a certain amount of credibility. But what she does as an actor is amazing. I was on the set one day and she was reading a speech that I'd read to myself a thousand times, and I looked around the stage and half the crew was standing there teary-eyed. That's a gift."

To lure the five-time Academy Award-nominated actress, the filmmakers devised a unique and apropos invitation. Close recalls: "I was invited to have dinner with President Clinton in Wyoming during his vacation there this summer and Harrison Ford was there. I was sitting on the President's right and halfway through dinner, Harrison came over and knelt down on the President's left and said 'Would you like to be my Vice President in a movie I'm doing?' Under those circumstances, I didn't think I could say no."

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