We’ve all watched a film we were far too young to process. In my lifetime, I have watched several film that I was far too young to be watching, from the likes of Alien, to Terminator, which gave me my first real experience of strong female characters. I remember being terrified to fall to sleep after watching A Nightmare on Elm Street and falling in love with the concept of anti-heroes after watching Bonnie and Clyde (my sisters and I were so heartbroken over the film’s ending that we couldn’t stop sobbing). Out of all the films I watched at a tender age, there is one film that stands out to me, and this is the 1997 action packed thrilled ride that is Con Air.
I am not sure how my grandparents obtained the VHS cassette of Con Air, they seemed to prefer musicals featuring Judy Garland and westerns featuring John Wayne. I wonder whether they had picked up the video from Blockbusters by accident, and I doubt they actually ever watched. I was allowed to watch whatever VHS I wanted and my grandparents would be happy knowing I was enjoying myself (their only rule was not to sit too close to the TV set), and they would normally leave me alone.
So, I can only believe that they were totally unaware of what Con Air was actually about. Certainly, my grandparents would certainly not to put the video on for me if they knew what it was about and the levels of swearing and violence. Somehow, I managed to find myself watching Con Air at the tender age, completely unprepared for what was lying in store for me. And, things were never quite the same again.
For all those who aren’t familiar with Con Air (it’s the film where the GIF of Nic Cage with long hair and a charming smile comes from), it’s an action thriller produced Jerry Bruckheimer (who also produced other 90s action flicks such as Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armageddon). The film follows Cameron Poe (Cage), a highly decorated United States Army Ranger, came home to Alabama to his wife, Tricia (Monica Potter), only to run into a few drunken regulars where Tricia works. Cameron unknowingly kills one of the drunks and is sent to a federal penitentiary for involuntary manslaughter for seven years.
Cameron has now become eligible for parole and can now go home to his wife and daughter. To get back home, he flies back on a prisoner transporter plane, but he’s not the only con on the plane.There’s a collection of deplorables made up of William “Billy Bedlam” Bedford (Nick Chinlund), serial rapist John “Johnny 23” Baca (Danny Trejo), Black Guerrilla Family member Nathan “Diamond Dog” Jones (Ving Rhames), Garland “The Marietta Mangler” Greene (Steve Buscemi).
The biggest and baddest criminal is the sociopathic mastermind “Cyrus the Virus” Grissom (John Malkovich), who gets the honour of saying the title of the film (“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I have the only gun on board. Welcome to Con Air”). After taking off, affable inmate Joe “Pinball” Parker incites a riot as a distraction, releasing Grissom and Diamond Dog and taking over the plane. The flight is overseen by U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) and DEA agents Willie Sims and Duncan Malloy but they are easily outnumbered when Cyrus and his gang of cons manage to takeover the airplane. Everyone on the ground is taken by surprised and a there isn’t even a contingency plan in place. All hope lies in Cameron, but can Larkin trust this ex-con and will Cyrus be stopped, or are they going to fly all the way to Disneyland after all?
Revisiting Con Air, I find myself amazed by how much of the film’s content and its themes are so adult. There is a scene where the only female on board the plane is nearly raped, which as an eight year old I didn’t understand, and watching this scene as an adult it was very uncomfortable. There’s another questionable scene which appears later in the film where Buscemi’s character joins a little girl for a tea party, and we get this uneasy sense of dread that this girl may be his next victim. When I viewed this film as a child I though Buscemi was such a nice friendly man playing with this girl, clearly I hadn’t learned about ‘stranger danger’ yet!
Still, regardless of these aspects, Con Air still stands up as an entertaining blockbuster which could have only be made in the 90s era. The film’s action is impressively choreographed and well shot, with long drawn out chase sequences and an epic finale which sees the plane landing on the Las Vegas strip. Yes, the action sequences and the scenario is totally unbelievable but the film never takes it self seriously. As Roger Ebert stated in his review “This is a movie that knows it is absurd, and does little to deny it”.
Malkovich is dripping with charisma, and you can tell he’s enjoying himself in this role and his character has all the best lines (“Make a move and the bunny gets it.”). Cage plays Poe as this classic Southern gentleman who knows right from wrong, and is driven by the need to see his daughter. Like Die Hard’s John McClane, this is our everyday hero who we can relate too (it can’t be coincidence that Cage’s Poe also wears a white vest, right?). In an interview Cage revealed that he came up for the idea of his character trying to get a stuffed bunny to his daughter, “The whole bunny thing was mine … I wanted that to be symbolic of all the pain and loss he had gone through just for protecting his pregnant wife—protecting her too well, and getting thrown into prison.”
There’s just so much to love about this film. It’s crammed full with quotable lines, genuine edge-of-your-seat action scenes, a classic 90s power ballard “How Do I Live” and highly memorable cast; simply put this film still stands up today. Watching this film I am transported back to my childhood. I may not of fully understood everything in the film as a child, but watching it as an adult, I find myself appreciating the film on a whole new level. Welcome to Con Air, everyone! Strap yourself in as it’s going to be one hell of a flight!
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