Title: Olympus Has Fallen
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (‘Training Day’)
The somewhat plausible premise of the White House being attacked by terrorists, and the Secret Service subsequently playing a cat-and-mouse game with impossibly high stakes, inflicts serious emotional and physical damage in a short period in the action thriller ‘Olympus Has Fallen.’ Director Antoine Fuqua worked with a team of consultants, including former Secret Service, FBI, CIA and law enforcement officials, while developing the movie, to create an authentic depiction of an enemy destroying the ultimate symbol of American freedom, the White House. Combined with actor-producer Gerard Butler emotionally showcasing his character, Mike Banning’s, continued loyalty to, and desire to protect, the president, visually creative fight sequences and an impressive production design, the action thriller is a non-stop homage to the lengths dedicated government officials will go to in order to save the United States.
‘Olympus Has Fallen’ follows Mike, a Secret Service agent who accompanies the President of the United States, Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), First Lady Margare Asher (Ashley Judd) and their son, Connor (Finley Jacobsen), from Camp David to a Christmas party. Along the way, they become involved in a car accident, due to a hazardous snow storm, and Mike is unable to save everyone traveling with them.
A year-and-a-half later, Mike has fallen from grace and is working in the Treasury division, as Benjamin is still struggling to cope with the accident. But the former Secret Service agent is thrust back into the action when a group of terrorists take down the White House (code name Olympus), leaving him to try to once again save Benjamin. The small group of heavily armed, meticulously trained extremists, led by Kang (Rick Yune), launch a daring daylight ambush on Washington. The terrorists overrun the White House and take the president and his staff hostage inside an impenetrable underground bunker. As a battle rages on the White House lawn, Mike joins the battle, and finds his way into the besieged building to do the job he has trained to do all his life: to protect the president at all costs.
Mike uses his extensive training and detailed knowledge of the presidential residence to become the eyes and ears of Acting president Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and his key advisers. With tensions rising, the radicals begin executing hostages and threaten to kill more unless their demands are met. America’s national security team must rely on Mike to locate Connor, who is being sought as the ultimate test of the president’s loyalty to his country. Mike must also rescue the president before the terrorists can unleash their ultimate plan.
Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, the screenwriters for the action thriller, created an exhilarating script that emotionally sets Mike’s continued struggle to accept his new job and his attempts to do whatever it takes to retain his former glory, against a well-researched plot of terrorists overtaking the White House. Fuqua further added authenticity to Kang’s mission to bring the same political and societal issues that have been plaguing North and South Korea for the past 60 years to America by speaking to the team of consultants. The plot point in ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ that it takes an emergency military force at least 15 minutes to get to the White House, allowing Kang and his team to infiltrate the building that stands for American freedom, in 13 minutes, is one element that appears dramatized to allow the terrorists to initiate their infiltration. However, it is one such point that the director learned through his investigation, as there’s not direct road to the White House, due to the way Washington, D.C. is set up.
As a producer and the lead actor in the film, Butler meticulously prepared to showcased Mike’s continued loyalty to, and desire to protect, the president, even 18 months after his transfer to another unit in the government. Butler subtly, but emotionally, showcases Mike’s endless search for redemption and longing to prove he still genuinely cares for Benjamin and his family. The actor and producer perfectly balanced the damaged protagonist’s internal struggle over his feelings of inadequacy with impressive stunt work, which was choreographed by former Navy SEAL Keith Wouland. Working with Fuqua to make the fight and action sequences appear authentic to what SEALs might actually during a time of national crisis, Wouland created exhilarating fights for Butler’s portrayal that made it believable that Mike could kill numerous terrorists on his own.
The continuously striking and visually creative action and fight sequences Wouland choreographed were enhanced by the stunning sets created by production designer Derek Hill. Faqua rightfully decided to physically build a replica of the White House and the surrounding areas of Washington, D.C., instead of using extensive CGI. The physical sets enhanced the authenticity of Mike’s determination to rescue Benjamin from the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, where he was being held by Kang and his team. Much to the director’s surprise, the film’s producers decided to build their replica of the White House in Shreveport which Faqua has described as being the one place in America that looks the least like the capital. But Hill skillfully built a perfect replica of the White House, paying close attention to the most noteworthy and smallest details, from the building’s secret passageways in the walls to the water fountain on the front lawn on Pennsylvania Avenue to the Asher family’s personal photographs. Hill’s extensive attention to detail throughout the White House made the bombings even more emotionally tolling to watch.
While the majority of the storyline of ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ is driven by Kang and his team physically preparing to take full control of the White House, and Mike using his extensive military training to take down the terrorist group, the extensive research Faqua did before he began shooting added to the authenticity of the story. After speaking with government officials and consultants, the director created a plausible story and explanation on how an enemy group could feasibly overtake the White House. Butler’s commitment to developing the motivations and character of the disgraced former Secret Service agent, from his emotional struggle of not being able to protect the First family, to performing the choreography created by Woulard, clearly showed throughout the film. The emotional and physical struggles Mike is forced to overcome are enhanced by the stunning visuals and sets created by Hill, which prove that when someone puts their mind to something, they can overcome any obstacle.
Written by: Karen Benardello