Avuncular liberal Robert Redford plays an avuncular and liberal US Army General, who's sentenced to a military prison after disobeying orders - presumebly in an avuncular and liberal way.
Unfortunately the military prison is run by an autocratic disciplinarian played by James Gandolfini. Initially intent on quietly serving his sentence Redford's bleeding heart is moved to lead a prison coup by the brutal treatment meted out to inmates in Gandolfini's care.
During the revolt Gandolfini calls in a helicopter to help restore order in the prision yard where the rebellion is taking place.
The prisoners, anticipating this move, secure a grappling hook to the chopper and an imprisoned pilot shins up the chain and takes control of the helicopter after a brief onboard scuffle.
On a nearby guard tower a sadistic prison officer finds himself face to face with the helicopter's pilot. The guard makes to shoot the pilot who spins the tail rotors of the chopper round, making mince meat of the officer, destroying the tower and the rear of the chopper.
Without a rear rotor the helicopter spins round out of control before crashing into the ground. The selflessly compassionate Redford is the first to act and helps the pilot from the chopper which has already caught fire. Moments after they're clear the helicopter explodes.
The helicopter creates some impressive destruction prior to its crash. It's also nice to see the wounded chopper, without it's tail rotor, spin round out of control.
Tantalisingly, after it crashed into the ground, it looks like the helicopter isn't going to explode, however, the camera shot lingers just that moment too long, and sure enough, up she goes.
More attention is spent on blowing up the guard tower and the chopper's dramatic crash landing than the actual explosion. By now the chopper is already in several pieces following its collosion with the guard tower and plummit into the ground. There's barely enough left of it to blow up. As they make their escape from the wreckage, Ruffalo and Redford both flinch in time honoured action movie style as the whirlybird finally goes up.
Relevance to plot
If anything it's TOO relevant. The helicopter makes several conspicuous appearance earlier in the film, and Yates (played by Mark Ruffalo) is clearly defined as a pilot for it not to prove relevant at some point in the film.
Exploding helicopter innovation
None. Director Rod Lurie fails to break any new ground in the art of exploding helicopters, however, it could be the only prison movie which features an exploding helicopter.
The prison movie genre is not fertile ground for exploding helicopter fans. An otherwise predictable prison flick is definitely improved by the chopper fireball.
Unfortunately, after the excitement of the destruction of the guard tower and the damaged helicopter's crash, the final explosion of the helicopter is disappointingly routine.