Con Air

Released: 1997
Director: Simon West

Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich


A blockbuster with subtle acting, direction and intelligent script – wait no….

There are some things that films need to be truly great – strong acting, meaningful narrative, subtle direction.  Oh and explosions, big explosions.  And a toy bunny in peril.  Thankfully Con Air has all – or almost all – of these elements in abundance (or at least the elements that really matter anyway)!

It is by absolutely no stretch of the imagination a subtle or clever film but bloody hell, it’s good fun.  There are few movies that are more fun to sit and watch on a Saturday night.  It’s easy on the mind, has a fun story and some great fireballs, what else does a blockbuster really need?  Subtlety, script and acting are all massively over-rated anyway.

Cameron Poe, played by Nicolas Cage, is a former Army Ranger approaching the end of his jail sentence for manslaughter.  He is being transported to freedom on a prison plane when a group of fellow convicts take control of the aircraft.  Poe is desperate to get home to his wife and daughter and works with ground based US Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) to defeat the escapees who are being led by Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, played perfectly by John Malkovich.

Nicolas Cage is not a great actor.  He mumbles a lot and has a permanent vacant expression on his face.  I never feel like I’m watching one of God’s smarter creatures when I see Cage on screen but that’s completely irrelevant here, the role isn’t that of a genius.  Poe is not a complex character – he’s a decent, loving guy with a bad temper who always seems to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.  John Cusack is a great actor, but this isn’t the kind of film that he seems comfortable being part of.

Anyone who’s seen 2012 will surely testify to that but both Cage and Cusack do decent jobs as the movie’s good guys but this film belongs to the baddies.  John Malkovich is tremendous as Cyrus who boasts that he has killed more men than cancer.  He’s cruel, vicious, strangely likeable and surely one of the best screen bad guys of all time, but even Malkovich pales into insignificance when compared to Steve Buscemi as Garland ‘The Marietta Mangler’ Greene.  I don’t think there’s ever been a serial killer with as much charm as Greene, even Hannibal Lecter seems nothing special compared to him.

The script is cliche-ridden, the story ridiculous and the characters completely one-dimensional, particularly Colm Meaney’s Malloy, an arrogant DEA agent who attempts to bully poor Larkin.  Some of the lines make me cringe every time I hear them.  When Guard Sally Bishop’s sees a photo of Poe’s daughter and says “This here is a walking, talking reason to rehabilitate” it makes me want to rip off my arm so that I have something to throw at the screen but other lines do make me laugh, particularly any which concern the toy bunny that Poe wants to give his daughter on their first ever meeting.

The direction is as explosive as you would expect from a Jerry Bruckheimer production.  This was director Simon West’s first feature film but it has Bruckheimer’s fingerprints all over it.  There are brilliant set pieces, exciting fights, a classic explosion and a great plane crash onto the Las Vegas strip.  It’s an excellent example of a brainless and massively enjoyable blockbuster.  Con Air promises nothing more than a thrill-filled couple of hours of mindless fun, and delivers it in spades.


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