Since I’ve been watching The NeverEnding Story this year as part of the Cinema 52 experiment, I thought I might gain a greater understanding of the movie by watching as many Wolfgang Petersen films as I could get my hands on. There are certainly more in his filmography than the ones I plan to watch, but they are nearly unattainable here in the United States. Come with me as I watch the evolution of Petersen across more than three decades of movie-making.

[Missed Part 1 of Wolfgang Bang? It’s right here.]

SHATTERED (1991)

Shattered is the story of Dan Merrick (Tom Berenger) who survives a horrific car accident, but wakes up with amnesia. As he begins to slowly piece his life back together, mysteries begin to form. Judith (Greta Scacchi), his wife, has been by his side constantly, but once he begins to ask his friends more questions, things just don’t add up. Dan eventually discovers that he hired a private detective named Gus Klein (Bob Hoskins).

“An amnesiac killed my brother.”

Dan discovers that his wife was cheating on him, but that he also had a mistress. Plus his fax machine has a specific font! And there’s a barge his architecture firm wants to sink! A red Porsche is seen frequently! Secret phone calls! Suspense!

Shattered is based on a novel by Richard Neely. The film feels like some sort of head trip with repetitive flashbacks or breaking glass and The Moody Blues being played during sex scenes. Bob Hoskins’ character is also an exotic pet store owner with a sassy black lady as his employee. This is not important to the plot, but to my own entertainment. Wolfgang Petersen put real thought into the car crash scene and captured the chaos and horror. The rest is mediocre filmmaking.

I thoroughly disliked watching Shattered. It’s supposed to be a mystery-suspense-thriller thing, but I figured it all out at the 48-minute mark. The dialogue is boring and the actors are lame in their roles. It’s like a soap opera, but the really bad kind. The plus is that Greta Scacchi’s breasts play a prominent role.

This, but with less clothes obstructing the view.

Any time the film begins to bore you, there’s a scene with tits to tide you over. It seems like Petersen was looking to try something new and did the best with what he had, but it still isn’t anything to ever go out of your way to see. Except for the cool-looking car crash. It’s right at the beginning for viewer convenience.

IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993)

Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) becomes BFFs with a crazy man who promises he’s going to kill the President of the United States. Horrigan was present at Kennedy’s assassination and still lives with the guilt. He’s an old dog in the agency who just happens to stumble upon plans to kill the President by a man named Mitch Leary (John Malkovich).

Malkovich in all his Malkovichian glory.

Horrigan must contend with his own bad reputation, supervisors that hate him, his age, and a female agent (Rene Russo) while the President is on a packed campaign tour for re-election. Leary insists on calling Horrigan to mock the government and the fact that he’s been at every rally without them finding him.

In the Line of Fire is mystery and suspense done with more thought than Shattered. Characters have more depth and the movie world is better fleshed out. Petersen is able to convey the pressures of trying to protect a man who is doing his best to be… in the line of fire. Perhaps the most interesting choice in this film is that the President is rarely seen or his political stance discussed. He is a figurehead to the agents and their job is to protect him at any cost.

I enjoyed In the Line of Fire mostly because I like Clint Eastwood.

Bad-assery comes natural.

It looked like he was having a good time playing the piano and hitting on Rene Russo. John Malkovich puts on a suitably disturbing performance as well. There’s a nice mix of humor while still reminding the audience that keeping the President safe is serious business. In the Line of Fire is a solid film that doesn’t really do anything edgy or unconventional. It relies on a solid plot and a good cast for its success.

OUTBREAK (1995)

A deadly virus makes its way to a small town in California. It’s up to Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and Robbie Keough (Rene Russo) to find a cure while the government plays some shady games on the side. To add to the mix, Sam and Robbie are recently divorced and Sam has a brand new member on his team, Major Salt (Cuba Gooding Jr.). A super young and dreamy Patrick Dempsey dooms everyone by bringing an infected African monkey to a pet store.

I forgive you, Patrick.

The virus manages to mutate into an airborne killer. Meanwhile, the government is trying to hide that it already knew about the virus 30 years ago and also might be thinking about flash bombing an entire town.

Petersen managed to give me the willies in this outing. Outbreak is not only fear of death, it’s about the fear of others, of not knowing what’s going on, and not being able to trust those in authority. There’s also a subplot about Sam trying to reconcile with his ex-wife because “you don’t know what you had until you’ve lost it” or something.

I think there might be a case for adultery. Just look at those kids.

There needs to be a little heart in the middle of a film that shows a thousand dead bodies being burned in secret. Petersen also manages to juggle a cast full of big actors. There are some lines that could have been handled poorly, but everyone brings their A-game to Outbreak. Plus, the action scenes are inventive without being over-the-top ridiculous.

Outbreak was a fun film. Or as fun a film about the deaths of thousands of people can be. Basically, it’s well-done action and suspense. There’s nothing more frightening than a deadly virus because it’s pretty hard to escape other people. Outbreak conveys that tension while still making time for action sequences, like helicopter chases.

Helicopters for everyone!

AIR FORCE ONE (1997)

President Han Solo (Harrison Ford) decides that America will no longer kowtow to terrorists. On his way back home on Air Force One, terrorists headed by Ivan Kurshunov (Gary Oldman) manage to take over the plane and hold everyone on board hostage. But sneaky President makes the terrorists think he escaped when he actually hid, and now he’s out to save the day.

Just another day for President Harrison Ford.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Vice President (Glenn Close) must deal with the situation while also putting up with the Defense Secretary trying to claim the President unfit for office.

Petersen must have had a blast making this film. There’s so much action and opportunities to amp up special effects. Plus, he gets back to his roots by setting the majority of the film in an enclosed space. Air Force One is a maze which allows for the terrorists and the President to cause havoc and adds to the suspense. There are scenes where we only get to see one side of the action and must wait for the outcome along with the characters.

“Is he pooping?”

I felt like a true American while watching this film. The action made me want to high five Harrison Ford through the television. Show Air Force One in other countries and everyone in the audience will gain automatic citizenship. I was pumped the entire time and was rooting for more action-tastic action to fill my screen.

Chest bump for incoming action.

Air Force One, I salute you with one hand while I eat apple pie with the other. Forget Independence Day, Air Force One is now my go-to action film for feeling like America.

THE ROAD SO FAR

Now that I have four more films under my belt, here’s a list of the qualities that make them “A Film by Wolfgang Petersen”:

  • Excellent action sequences
  • Suspense
  • Men being manly men
  • Government agencies

Petersen’s films are becoming more American. They are set in America and deal with American agencies. This sudden influx of American influence makes me wonder if the films are supposed to be satire. Petersen is also becoming a great action film director. As a result, his female characters are getting better. His first four films featured the Childlike Empress as the only female of any importance. In this batch, Glenn Close is a Vice President who stands by her decisions and manages a terrorist situation as best as can be expected. Rene Russo does double duty as a wise-cracking Secret Service agent and an intelligent virologist. Petersen has moved away from his more subtle origins, but many of his personal tropes remain.