There's no missing the patriotic imagery in "Olympus Has Fallen," a high-octane action thriller about a splinter group of North Korean terrorists who invade the White House and hold the president hostage. Key scenes in the film feature sun-dappled images of flying American flags, the Washington Monument toppled during a spectacular terrorist attack, and — because it's an action movie — even a defensive use of a weaponized Abraham Lincoln bust in the oval office.
And that flag-waving imagery isn't just there for decoration.
"That flag is supposed to represent freedom," said director Antoine Fuqua last week in an interview with The Washington Times. "So why not wave it?"
"I hear people sometimes say some negative things. 'Eh, America' —" Mr. Fuqua said, making a dismissive sound. "I just call bull on it. I'm patriotic. This country gave opportunity to everybody. It's supposed to be the melting pot of the world. The flag is a representation of that.
"There's nothing wrong with being patriotic. People sometimes get so cynical — they're like, 'Ah I don't want to be patriotic because it's not cool.' I think it's bull. My kids have grown up here. We have freedom here."
That freedom directly applies to his work as a filmmaker. In America, Mr. Fuqua said, "I get to make a movie like this. In some places the government would never let you make this movie. You know, you've got people censoring your art."
Mr. Fuqua, 48, is a practiced Hollywood hand who made his directorial debut in 1998 with "The Replacement Killers," a flashy, Americanized riff on Hong Kong gangster tropes. Since then, he's directed a string of star-driven action vehicles, including "Tears of the Sun," starring Bruce Willis as a special ops commander who leads a squad into Nigeria, "Shooter," starring Mark Wahlberg as a military sniper on the run, and "Training Day," a dark drama about corrupt L.A. cops that earned star Denzel Washington an Oscar for best actor.
Like those films, "Olympus Has Fallen" is a high-concept action picture with dynamic leading man. At the movie's center is an act of theatrical political terror — the siege of the president's residence and workplace, and the hostage-taking of the Commander in Chief. And the director says he kept real-world terrorism in mind while making the film.
"Terrorism has been part of our lives, and will be until we leave this earth. It's a reality now," Mr. Fuqua said, mentioning the 9/11 attacks of 2001.
Indeed, Mr. Fuqua described his film as a sort of imaginative response to those attacks.
"We had an opportunity make a movie where we said, OK, just like they said in the 9/11 Commission Report, part of the reason we were able to be attacked is that we lacked imagination," he explained. "So now we get a chance to make a movie where we say — all in fun as entertainment — here's another scenario: Hey what if these guys did this?"
Part of the process meant figuring out who "these guys" would be: With the White House at the center of the film, there was no way to avoid political implications altogether. But Mr. Fuqua says he didn't want the bad guys to be the focus. "It could have been anybody, any number of countries we have issues with — it could have been Iran," he said.
Cinema, he says, has always drawn from real-world geopolitical conflicts. "The Russians at one point were the bad guys. Look at "Casablanca." The Germans were the bad guys."