×

Film Review: ‘Olympus Has Fallen’

Bulgarian-made CGI does more damage than the North Korean terrorists in Antoine Fuqua's grim White House actioner

A North Korean terrorist may be responsible for taking the president hostage, but it’s Bulgarian-made CGI that does the most damage in Antoine Fuqua’s intense, ugly, White-House-under-siege actioner “Olympus Has Fallen.” Cut past the pic’s superficial patriotism, and the message is ironically clear: Never outsource your visual effects when a domestic shop will do. Courageously representing the human element in this mostly digital assault on American soil, Gerard Butler holds his own as a one-man-army. Millennium was wise to push this grim act-of-war movie out three months ahead of Columbia’s like-minded “White House Down.”

In June, auds will see how Roland Emmerich, whose “Independence Day” gleefully made things go boom at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., handles the task today. For the moment, the post-9/11 memory of real attacks on American targets still hits a bit too close to home. And though Hollywood’s jaunty disaster-movie days may have passed, this lower-budget entry comes with the satisfaction of evening the score before end credits roll.

Olympus Has Fallen” helmer Fuqua, who’s known for bringing an unflinching toughness to inner cities (“Training Day”) and ancient history (“King Arthur”), sticks to the “Die Hard” model here, minus most of the tossed-off one-liners. In ex-Special Forces pro Mike Banning, Butler presents a gritty but humorless hero who cusses, bleeds and occasionally pauses to remove shards of glass from his wounds.

To raise the personal stakes, Creighton Rothenberger’s script opens with a prologue in which Banning saves the life of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart, who looks the part of a Wall St.-friendly commander in chief), but fails to protect the First Lady (Ashley Judd) — a tragedy that leaves the redemption-seeking secret service agent reassigned to desk duty.

Banning’s chance to square the books with Asher arrives when heavily armed guerillas swarm the White House, led by the undercover Kang (“Die Another Day’s” Rick Yune). While a massive CG warplane flies low over D.C., gunning down pedestrians and blasting the top off the Washington Monument, turncoat Forbes (Dylan McDermott) helps Kang and his men take the president and his top staffers (including Melissa Leo’s unyielding Secretary of Defense) captive in the White House’s underground safe room.

Hokey glimpses of tourists attempting to outrun blocks of falling granite make the lo-fi effects of an earlier era look realistic by comparison. As pedestrians run for cover or die in the crossfire, Banning makes his way into the fray, searching for the president’s missing son (Finley Jacobson) before worrying about the kidnapped world leaders.

With Asher incapacitated and his veep brutally executed before the eyes of the military’s top brass, the shot-calling role falls to the Speaker of the House, played by Morgan Freeman, an actor with experience at holding the reins of power, having occupied the Oval Office in “Deep Impact.” Freeman demonstrates due gravitas, steeling his nerves with a strong cup of coffee while the small army of character actors around him hang their heads in desperation.

Fuqua’s widescreen approach — which offers ample room for all that vidgame-quality CG — relishes such cornball iconography, featuring shots of the American flag pierced with bullets, or tumbling slowly to the ground against a flame-red sunset, while Trevor Morris’ drum-corps score keeps things sounding duly martial. Banning earns well-deserved cheers for using a heavy bust of Lincoln’s head to bust in a baddie’s noggin.

Though not as exciting as the White House-storming seventh season of “24,” the high-concept project alternates between brawny action movie and crudely considered “what if” scenario. Despite the pic’s one-on-many focus, Fuqua approaches it as a full-blown war movie, incorporating the military’s latest toys into large-scale shootouts between squads of anonymous opponents.

Sadly, those crude Bulgarian-rendered effects aren’t much more convincing than the recent White-House-in-the-crosshairs propaganda videos pouring out of North Korea. Butler brings things back to a more practical level, as his butt-kicking hero shoots, stabs and punches his way through to the commander-in-distress, only to face off against a foreign-rigged computer program in the final scene. Figures.

Olympus Has Fallen

Reviewed at Aidikoff screening room, Los Angeles, March 18, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 120 MIN.

A Film District release of a Millennium Films presentation of a Nu Image/Gerard Butler/Alan Siegel Entertainment production. Produced by Antoine Fuqua, Butler, Siegel, Ed Cathell III, Danny Lerner, Mark Gill. Executive producers, Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, John Thompson, Heidi Jo Markel.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Screenplay, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt. Camera (color, widescreen), Conrad W. Hall; editor, John Refoua; music, Trevor Morris; production designer, Derek R. Hill; art director, Karen Steward; set decorator, Cathy T. Marshall; costume designer, Doug Hall; sound (Datasat/Dolby Digital), Steve C. Aaron; supervising sound editor, Mandell Winter; re-recording mixers, Chris David, Daniel Leahy; special effects coordinator, Jack Lynch; visual effects producer, Scott Coulter; visual effects, Worldwide FX, Ghost FX, Base FX; stunt coordinator, Keith Woulard; associate producer, Danielle Robinson; second unit director, Jamie Marshall; second unit camera, Gary Capo; casting, Cathy Sandrich Gelfond, Amanda Mackey, Ryan Glorioso.

With: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Finley Jacobsen, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Ruth McMillan Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Phil Austin, James Ingersoll, Freddy Bosche, Lance Broadway, Sean O’Bryan, Keong Sim, Kevin Moon, Malana Lea, Robert Forster, Sam Median, Ashley Judd.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Olympus Has Fallen'

More Film

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

  • Cat in the Wall Movie Sarajevo

    Sarajevo Film Festival Builds Bridges Through Art

    Rising from the rubble of the Bosnian War to become one of Southeastern Europe’s leading film and TV industry events, the Sarajevo Film Festival has plenty to celebrate as it marks its 25th edition this year. The festival was established in 1995 during the four-year siege of Sarajevo as part of an effort to help [...]

  • 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band

    Film Review: 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas'

    Settling in to watch “ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” you may have a burning question that applies to almost no other rock documentary, and that is: Who, exactly, are these guys? The ones behind the beards? If you’re old enough, of course, you probably know that ZZ Top started out, in 1969, [...]

  • Patricia Louisiana Knop Dead: Screenwriter Was

    Screenwriter Patricia Louisianna Knop Dies at 78

    Screenwriter Patricia Louisianna Knop, who collaborated with her producer-director husband Zalman King on erotically-charged films of the late 1980s and 1990s including “Siesta” and “9 1/2 Weeks,” died Aug. 7 in Santa Monica after a lengthy illness. “9 1/2 Weeks,” starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger, was directed by Adrian Lyne, co-produced by King and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content