The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

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And He Can't Get Up

Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler
 121 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed ByRic Roman Waugh
Starring: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman
Angel Has Fallen

One thing that I’ve learned in the past five years or so is that, if you want to keep the President of the United States safe, the best way to do that is to keep him far, far, away from Gerard Butler. In the new thriller, Angel Has Fallen, Butler plays Secret Service Agent Mike Banning for the third time. As in the other two films, Butler finds himself the only person standing in the way between the President and, in this case, a deadly drone attack. And, like the other two films, Angel Has Fallen is very predictable, very routine, but still kind of enjoyable the way some Butler films seem to be.


In the two earlier films in the series, Mike Banning had to protect the President (then played by Aaron Eckhart) from North Korean terrorists who seized the White House and Islamic terrorists who bombed half of London. This time around, Eckhart apparently saw the light and declined to run for re-election, so Morgan Freeman, who was born to be presidential, succeeds to the top spot and gets to wear the target on his back. While on a fishing trip, the President’s entire Secret Service detail, except for Banning, is wiped out in a drone attack. Banning saves the President, but both of them are severely injured in an explosion.


When Banning wakes up, he finds himself the chief suspect in the assassination attempt, with a seemingly airtight array of circumstantial evidence planted against him, including a $10 million deposit from Russian sources to an offshore account Butler never knew he had. FBI agent Helen Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) lays out the evidence against Banning and orders him taken into custody by the usual method in movies like this. Namely, a handful of expendable FBI agents drive Banning along a deserted country road where they become easy targets for a group of mercenaries who ambush the convoy and capture Banning themselves.


The mercenaries don’t prove that much better at holding onto Banning than the FBI agents were. As a result, Banning manages to escape them and go on the run with both the mercenaries and every law enforcement agency in the world chasing him. In desperation, Banning hides out deep in the woods in a cabin where his father Clay (Nick Nolte) has been living for years. Clay is a highly trained ex-military sort and bears a striking resemblance to an older version of the Unabomber. Luckily for Mike, his father has been planting explosives around the cabin for years instead of sending them out as mail bombs. So, when the bad guys come calling again, Clay can set off about a hundred booby traps and blow them all to smithereens. 


With his father’s help, Mike makes his way back to civilization, where all he has to do is save the President from another assassination attempt, this time in the form of a full-blown military assault on a hospital in the middle of Washington, DC, and unmask the real villains. The latter task is not all that difficult, since anyone who has ever seen a movie of this nature will immediately realize that the overly friendly owner (Danny Huston) of a private security firm that trains hundreds of well-armed mercenaries isn’t quite the friend he pretends to be in the seemingly innocent first few minutes of Angel Has Fallen. The film also has another big bad pulling strings behind the mercenaries, but his identity is only slightly more challenging to guess.


If Angel Has Fallen doesn’t win any awards for screenplay originality, the film’s action is also somewhat routine. Several big set pieces are decently but not spectacularly staged. The original movie in this series, Olympus Has Fallen, was directed by Antoine Fuqua, and, not surprisingly, it has the best mix of action and suspense in the series. Since then, the series has employed somewhat of a director by committee, in this case, former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh. Waugh’s work reminded me of the current set of commercials for AT&T internet service, “just OK.” He does have a weakness for pyrotechnics, employing lots of explosives every chance he gets. As a result, a couple of the scenes, notably the booby trap sequence that Clay sets off when the mercenaries show up, go way overboard.


Surprisingly for a movie like this, the acting is the strong suit of Angel Has Fallen. Even more surprisingly, Gerard Butler, an actor who can go wildly overboard at the drop of a hat, seems somewhat restrained here. The main reason for that restraint is that he is pretty much hemmed in by his co-stars. Morgan Freeman’s lines are corny, but he delivers them with the right air of solemnity, which keeps Butler pretty much in check as well. Nick Nolte, on the other hand, has no such restraints, and he goes gleefully off the deep end every chance he gets. This is scenery-chewing of the worst kind, but, in a movie with this high a body count and testosterone level, his wild-eyed gonzo swagger works. Nolte also reduces Butler to being the straight man.


As far as the star of the movie is concerned, Gerard Butler brings to mind the line from Forrest Gump: “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Here, we get Butler actually trying to stay in character, while, at the same time, showing off a bit of his swagger on occasion. This is by no means an inspired performance, but it’s adequate and leaves room for Nick Nolte and others to do the heavy lifting.


Angel Has Fallen brings to mind two far superior films from the 1990s: Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive and Wolfgang Petersen’s In the Line of Fire. Both of these films had superior scripts that played up the manhunt aspects of The Fugitive and the cat-and-mouse gamesmanship between Secret Service and would-be assassin of In the Line of Fire. Here, whenever the plot threatens to run out of gas, director Waugh stages another shootout. The end result is a movie that’s never dull and never totally bad, but never quite inspired either. The end result is a slightly above average direct-to-video action film with a few better than average actors and a lot bigger than average budget for effects and stunts. The entertaining acting and the noise level will, at the least, keep the audience from falling… asleep.

In this clip, Gerard Butler tries to save President Morgan Freeman from a drone attack.

Read other reviews of Angel Has Fallen: 

Angel Has Fallen (2019) on IMDb