Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Piper Perabo, Tim Blake Nelson, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston
Runtime: 1 hr 54 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Encore Films and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 22 August 2019
Synopsis: When there is an assassination attempt on U.S. President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), his trusted confidant, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), is wrongfully accused and taken into custody. After escaping from capture, he becomes a man on the run and must evade his own agency and outsmart the FBI in order to find the real threat to the President. Desperate to uncover the truth, Banning turns to unlikely allies to help clear his name, keep his family from harm and save the country from imminent danger.
For the uninitiated, ‘Angel Has Fallen’ marks the third time that Gerard Butler’s Secret Service agent Mike Banning has had to risk his life to save that of the President of the United States; in fact, Mike has done it long enough to have had the privilege of serving both the current President Malcolm Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) as well as his predecessor (played by Aaron Eckhart). Oh yes, this is the third instalment of the ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ series, which never pretended that they were anything more than entertaining B-action thrillers intended for the popcorn movie-going audience; and as long as those expectations remain (as they should), you won’t be disappointed by director and co-writer Ric Roman Waugh’s perfectly serviceable entry.
In an astute nod to the events of the earlier two films, our reacquaintance with Mike finds him a little worse for the wear. Not only does he suffer from migraines and insomnia, he is dealing with a mild addiction to painkillers that he uses to stem the after-effects of a series of concussions he’s suffered on the job. That is why despite being firmly in line for the coveted post of Director of the Secret Service, Mike is none too enthused when he is formally offered the role by President Trumbull; on the contrary, Mike would rather devote more time to his wife Leah (Piper Perabo, taking over for Radha Mitchell) and their newborn daughter. To Waugh’s credit, Mike’s physiological condition is not simply dealt with perfunctorily, and in fact builds empathy for him as he faces probably his most testing challenge yet.
While protecting the chief executive during a fishing expedition not far from Washington, Mike is betrayed by his old Army buddy turned cash-strapped private military contractor Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), who orchestrates a precision-trained drone strike on the President and the Secret Service agents protecting the President. Curiously, the attack deliberately leaves him unscathed, and thanks to Mike’s quick wittedness, the President survives the assassination attempt. Unfortunately for him, Mike wakes up after a brief coma to find himself accused of staging the attack, with the FBI investigation (led by Jada Pinkett Smith’s severely underutilised Agent Thompson) pointing to the US$10 million deposited in his offshore account by the Russians.
It isn’t hard to guess what comes next: a race-against-time not just to clear his name, but also to save the President from Wade’s clean-up operation. The cat-and-mouse game he plays with the authorities, as well as Wade’s army of mercenaries, lends itsel to a couple of well-executed setpieces. One of these is a close-quarter fight between Mike and his kidnappers on board a moving SUV; another is a thrilling vehicular chase through dark, woody terrain involving Mike’s hijacked semi-truck and a convoy of police cars; and yet another is a guerrilla-style shock-and-awe ambush by Mike and his estranged Viet army vet father Clay (Nick Nolte) against Wade’s henchmen in the West Virginian woods.
But even as you think the firepower could not get any fiercer, Waugh reserves the most intense firefight for the climactic standoff in the hospital complex where President Trumbull has been warded. It is there that Wade makes his last stand with Mike, and besides levelling a whole hospital block, the two friends-turned-enemies, as well as whoever is left on their respective sides, will exchange fire along the street before moving indoors into an atrium and engaging in a mano-a-mano knife fight on the roof. If that sounds more than a tad overblown (pun intended), it is, but equally, it has always been the point of the franchise to deliver outsized action sequences (think of how ‘London Has Fallen’ pretty much turned the streets of London into a war zone) for adrenaline junkies that you would never have imagined could happen in everyday life.
Yet you’d probably wish Waugh had eased up on the Bourne-style hand-to-hand combat, which is sometimes lost amidst quick cuts, first-person cinematography and generally dark lighting. That’s also largely because Butler, though looking a little puffier as he turns 50, is still absolutely competent in performing each one of the stunts on his own, and we’d have like to see him in every one of those shots in full glory. To Butler’s credit, he plays the now-wearied Mike with nuance and poignancy, and those who have watched the earlier two films will especially appreciate how his character has evolved here and how he deftly portrays that transformation.
But besides Butler himself, ‘Angel Has Fallen’ benefits tremendously from Freeman taking over as President, as well as the addition of Nolte. This isn’t the first time Freeman has played the leader of the free world, but he lends his signature grace and poise to a role that – both onscreen and offscreen – could certainly use more of. On the other hand, the 78-year-old Nolte steals the scene with his grizzled performance which the veteran layers on with surprising emotional complexity. Oh yes, the father-son relationship between Butler and Nolte is easily the most compelling aspect of the movie, and it is plainly apparent how energised Butler is with Nolte once they start to banter.
It is no overstatement that Nolte’s presence singlehandedly elevates the material, so much so that if you asked us to choose which of the ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ movies we liked best, we’ll probably settle for this one. Frankly, each has been made more or less according to the same template of delivering maximum fire-powered action at modest blockbuster budget standards; but Waugh, a former stuntman-turned-director makes the best of what he has to play with. Like we said, as long as your expectation is two hours of pure action spectacle and nothing more, ‘Angel Has Fallen’ will surely leave you on a high; and since it clearly desired to be just that, we’d say it is pretty much a godsend for action fans.
(Probably the best yet of the 'Olympus Has Fallen' series, this third entry delivers exciting, well-paced action alongside surprising layers of emotional complexity between Gerard Butler and Nick Nolte)
Review by Gabriel Chong