' ' Cinema Romantico: Angel Has Fallen

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Angel Has Fallen

If there is one constant in the so-called “Fallen” series, beginning with “Olympus Has Fallen” (which I have seen, grade four rotten potatoes) and continuing with “London Has Fallen” (which I have not seen), it is not the director, which has changed each time out, but the star, Gerard Butler as Secret Service Agent extraordinaire Mike Banning. If these are akin to “Die Hard” movies, just in a slightly more geopolitical zone, then Mike Banning is John McClane. But if John McClane was defined by Bruce Willis’s smart-alecky smirk, Mike Banning is defined by Gerard Butler gruffness. There is little behind those eyes, little humor in his heroism, he is taking this all a bit too seriously. That is not to suggest “Angel Has Fallen” itself is serious, though it is oddly topical in its plot points, as its narrative preposterousness ripe for legions of deGrasse Tyson-ish disciples to pick apart attests, but that its air is oddly solemn. This is a movie where, upon being wrongfully accused of attempting to assassinate the President, Mike hijacks a semi-truck. Alas, what should be an awesomely absurd twist on the car chase is just, like, just a standard issue car chase with a semi-truck as the pursued, less entertaining than mock dramatic. If we’re supposed to be having fun, then cut loose!

Director Ric Roman Waugh opens his movie with a fake-out, a nominal life and death rescue mission revealed as a mere training exercise, Mike giving a test run to a private military facility overseen by his old Army Ranger pal, Wade Jennings (Danny Huston). It suggests listless soldiers, like if Jeremy Renner of “The Hurt Locker” had no Mideast oil fight to avoid cleaning the gutters, forcing him to violently play-act instead. Indeed, in the ensuing scene Mike and Wade drink scotch and wistfully reminisce about when they were “lions.” But these scenes also suggest a private military preoccupation run amok, with Wade casually [cough, cough] suggesting Mike mention his training facility to the President, Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), for a possible contract. And simply in the gravelly way Huston has Wade tell Mike this recommendation is no big deal, you know that it is, taking no great pains to hide that he’s the bad guy, seeking to kill the President and frame Mike for various underhanded reasons.

The attempted assassination occurs on a remote lake where the President is fishing, drones suddenly flashing in the sky. Another movie might have evinced this as wicked irony, perhaps a POTUS waging endless wars by drone suddenly finding himself on the receiving end, but “Angel Has Fallen” views Trumbull in a similar saintly light as Mike. Indeed, Waugh’s ideology is not exactly consistent, more a Political Chex Mix viewing the Federal Government less as a union of states or collection of representatives and officials and advisors than a President and Secret Service Agent who go it alone, surrounded by incompetent FBI agents (including Jada Pinkett Smith who is utterly, tragically stranded) who buy this frame job hook, line and sinker and scheming cabinet members, like the VP (Tim Blake Nelson). And that’s to say nothing of Mike’s father, Clay (Nick Nolte), whom Mike seeks out for help when he goes on the run.

Clay is an off-the-grid conspiracy theorist, evident as much in the grizzly beard Nolte sports as his being a Vietnam vet. “Angel Has Fallen”, however, is not the kind of movie to stop and note the irony of an anti-government tinfoil hat wearer teaming up to help save the Chief Executive of the Federal Government nor whether we are supposed to view this as a big cosmic joke or a restoring of true American order. It’s too bad because Nolte’s commitment in tandem with his character suggests Walter Hill’s much darker “Southern Comfort” (1981), as does the concluding shootout, spilling out into the streets of Washington D.C., these “lions” – Mike and Wade – escaping the zoo, in a manner of speaking. That allegory is beyond Waugh, however, as much as his own movie’s sense of politics. In the end, the Politics are really just Pyrotechnics, the myriad explosives Clay has planted around his property emerging as “Angel Has Fallen’s” most potent symbol, a Salute to Fireworks masquerading as as a belief in civil liberty, our inalienable right to just blow some shit up.

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