The White House and its chief resident have been a source of many a plots in Hollywood. Of course, the building stays the same every time, and keeping aside the overall storyline – which mostly ranges between impending nuclear/terrorist threat and goofy romances – the President himself is often the key attractions of the movie. Mind, we are talking about the fictional Presidents here, not the real ones; that would preclude any of the more imaginative plots that we get to see. Of all the important things that these fictional leaders do to protect the people, there is nothing more fetching than to watch them join the battle in person. Here’s a pick of the best (or at least the ones that came to my mind) hell-raising Hollywood Presidents in business…
President James Marshall (Air Force One)
There is no way you can get in his way and walk away untouched. Even if you are aboard a plane with no sight of land for miles. Harrison Ford’s President Marshall is the simplistic, lucky solution we all wish for, but hardly ever get. He is a Vietnam veteran and a Medal of Honor recipient, a self-made man in politics and has a well-placed conscience. So when the Air Force One is hijacked, his family taken hostage and a crazed terrorist starts making unjust demands, President Marshall is one wounded tiger. He fakes his escape from the plane, he takes on armed terrorists single-handedly, he jettisons passengers off with their parachutes and oh, he also flies the crippled plane – just like a bike, as he put it himself. He rarely smiles, growls threateningly (but that is more Harrison Ford than James Marshall) and says stuff like “Get off my plane!” Technically, without all the practical hindrances, his tactics and cunning are a lesson for a man who has everything to lose, fighting against one who has everything to gain. Even his family sizes up to him, including his young daughter. President Marshall is a literally tough father-figure, ready to kick your sorry brains out if you used them to plot against his people.
President Thomas Whitmore (Independence Day)
All eventualities considered, an alien invasion is exactly the kind of pickle any President would hate to have on his plate. These creatures are typically hostile and somehow always come prepared with way too much firepower for their own good. President Whitmore has had, by far in the history of improbable emergencies, the most difficult job of all, and he has been the most victorious (Anthony Hopkin’s James Dale in Mars Attack! died in a similar attempt, remember?). In this case, the First Lady was herself a casualty, and the President was reeling under the unprecedented destruction, with the heavy thought that more was to follow. The opposition was unchartered, not even human and his authority was of no use to anyone besides to the mass of severely dazed people. So while you would expect him to have handed out a resignation to anybody who would have bothered to listen to him amidst the flames, the Commander-in-Chief decides on an all-out military offensive, with his rag-tag bunch of soldiers. And – this is the part that never fails to impress me – he straps up himself for a run in the air, since his men are a little short of hands. Even in a highly ridiculous setting, it can be safely said that his rousing prep talk to his men before they took the skies, makes for a moment of pride and patriotism. “Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” That line still gives me the goosebumps!
President Whitmore’s character was only one of the many that were responsible for the overall fun of the movie, with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum hogging the limelight, but Bill Pullman’s character was that of a very warm, concerned and dutiful leader, who, if he managed to kill a few enemies, would matter only a little against the safety of his frightened people, and his little daughter (why do they always have daughters?). There wasn’t any cunning involved in his play. Though he didn’t fight aliens one-on-one (James Marshall could have growled, “Get off my planet!”), he was a calming force in the madness. A much needed one.
President James Sawyer (White House Down)
Something tells me this shouldn’t be up here with the best in the business, but we do have a serious shortage of Presidents who are also hands-on fighters. This wasn’t Jamie Foxx’s best role by any stretch of imagination, and he was pretty much overshadowed by Channing Tatum. But the sneakers-clad President did his share of fighting all right. He was mostly goofy and took to his martial duties well enough, though it often looked like he would, rightfully, look and feel better in the chair rather than running around the demolished White House and dank tunnels. The story was weighted more towards the complexity of the baddies’ plot and the President was trying very hard to stay alive most of the time, as he was the one being hunted all around. But then President Marshall had been in a worse fix, and he certainly didn’t wear sneakers. While not one to pull out guns and swords that often, he did attack with a pen and added a rather clumsy line “The pen is mightier than the sword!”
An unremarkably similar setting was laid for Aaron Eckhart’s President Benjamin Asher in Olympus Has Fallen, who didn’t get to do even that. He was mostly tied up in the bunker. Gerard Butler got to do all the fighting and Eckhart was only made to look smouldering, though physically he seemed in fine form to take on the crazed terrorists all by himself. There did come a moment of awe towards the fag end but then it was very brief and well, he did get shot. Not fatally, but shot he was. And that’s certainly a bummer – what a dampener as a President. At least he had a son…
The list of awesome fictional Presidents is indeed long and consists of some absolutely stellar performances by the likes of Morgan Freeman (Deep Impact) and Henry Fonda (Fail Safe), but they have mostly awed us by their tremendous personalities alone. Admittedly, it is difficult to justify a President to hit out physically and hence the circumstances have had to be extreme in the case of President Marshall and President Whitmore. But as long as they give us the glimmer of hope that if need be, a President can raise more than just his voice, it’s a comforting thought. And a sight to relish.