“Angel Has Fallen” – Protecting a president from a traitor and a profiteer
Angel Has Fallen
directed by Ric Roman Waugh
written by Robert Mark Kamen and Matt Cook & Ric Roman Waugh
story by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt, based on characters created by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt.
acted by Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Danny Huston, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson, Piper Perabo, Nick Nolte
MPAA-rated R for violence and language throughout.
running time 114 minutes
by Bill Stamets
United States Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) in the Presidential Protection Division goes to work and before he gets home– he puts in a lot of overtime– SUVs, semis, motorcycles, boats and helicopters will crash, burn or blow up; landmarks, monuments and buildings will topple in clouds of white dust and smoke like the collapsing World Trade Center; and public servants, private contractors, arms dealers, terrorists and civilians will die not of natural causes.
Gerard Butler stars as Mike Banning in “Olympus Has Fallen” (2013), “London Has Fallen” (2016) and now “Angel Has Fallen.” Butler is a producer on all three films, directed by three different directors. Banning heroically protects the president in all three president-in-peril installments. Duty calls for stabbing bad guys through their skulls.
Above par action-thriller product directed Ric Roman Waugh, “Angel Has Fallen” gets into the head of Banning amidst the mayhem. Three different characters will tell him things they see in his eyes. Waugh directed “That Which I Love Destroys Me” about traumatized Iraq vets. Reworded, the title of that 2015 documentary turns into a repeated line in “Angel Has Fallen” but no one will will say PTSD out loud.
Workplace stressors have scarred more than Banning’s spinal cord. His doctor warns: “You’re a disaster waiting to happen.” He has an enemy within. So does the Oval Office.
Banning’s nemesis in “Olympus Has Fallen” was a North Korean terrorist embedded in the inner circle of South Korea’s prime minister. In “London Has Fallen” it was a terrorist in Yemen. Both targeted Banning’s protectee. Now the target is President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman).
Trumbull was Speaker of the House in 2013 and Vice President in 2016. Banning’s own career path: White House detail, transferred to U. S. Treasury, reassigned back to the White House, and now he is in line for Director of Secret Service. When that doctor– the fourth he’s seen in the past six months for migraines, dizzy spells and insomnia– asks his about his “line of work” Banning lies, “Computer sales.”
Banning is a target too. Hunted by bad guys– and by good guys this time. “The Hero Becomes The Fugitive,” states the film’s poster. The first words we hear are: “Target is on the move.” Outnumbered by heavily armed operatives, Banning takes violent evasive measures inside an abandoned industrial building. As he exits a paint ball pellet hits his upper chest and terminates a highly realistic training exercise. “Fuck! In the fucking heart. I think I’m fucking dead,” Banning shouts with a grin to former army buddy Wade Jennings (Danny Huston).
Jennings is a civilian in the private sector now. He runs Salient Global on a 5,000-acre site in Virginia and desperately needs contracts from the Department of Defense. Typically cast as a disloyal weasel, Huston from the get-go looks like bad news for our designated good guy. Of course one of the first lines Huston’s character delivers to Butler’s character is: “As they say, looks can be deceiving.” He will repeat variants of that truism. The transparency is unsubtle.
“You can come up with any scenario you want here and put it to the test,” Jennings boasts to Banning. That hunt in the opening scene turns out to be a run-through for an interstate chase with real bullets that takes up most of the 114-minute running time with Banning on the run and Trumbull in a hospital.
Jennings and his ex-military minions deploy killer drones in an attempt to assassinate the president during a fishing trip on Banning’s watch. Salient’s terrifying A.I. swarm is a thrill to watch in action. Because the bad guys in the “Fallen” franchise always have the coolest tech. Banning at times must get by with just his knife, plus guns borrowed from dead guys.
Each black-winged drone is outfitted with long-range lensed cameras, facial recognition software and personnel dossiers, including head shots, of the entire Secret Service team on duty. Precision targeting ensues. Banning is purposely spared. He must survive for the Salient scenario to work.
Evidence planted in advance by Jennings soon enough surfaces to incriminate the president’s trusted agent as a treasonous insider colluding with the Kremlin. Jennings earlier placed $10 million in an offshore account he secretly created in Banning’s name. Digital breadcrumbs lead “to a state-owned bank in Moscow.” Another one of those looks designed to deceive. Banning is framed as a sell-out.
“President Trumbull’s top guardian angel has fallen tonight,” intones a TV newscaster, helping us get the film’s title. The screenplay outsources a lot of plot exposition to TV clips with the obligatory Breaking News chyron. In “Olympus Has Fallen” we overheard an emergency transmission tipping us that “Olympus” was the Secret Service code name for the White House. Three months after its 2013 release, another action-thriller with the same setting and set-up hit theaters; its title was “White House Down.”
“Angel Has Fallen” screenwriters Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook and Waugh ground more of their plot in the beltway than geopolitics. In the two prior “Fallen” films screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt made up names for heads of state– South Korea, U.K., Canada, France Italy, Japan– except for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was named once but not seen in “London Has Fallen.” Creighton and Benedikt, who share a “story by” credit in “Angel Has Fallen,” also invented an arch-terrorist for “London Has Fallen.” Onscreen text identified his location as Sana’a, Yemen.
U.S. President Donald Trump is out of the picture. “Angel Has Fallen” appears to digitally erase him from news video appearing to show a G20 group photo op wherein Morgan Freeman’s character appears to stand near Putin. As Jennings likes to say, “looks can be deceiving.” The end credits of “Angel Has Fallen” name the networks– CNN, FOX, MSNBC– of TV reporters who are played by actors.
A more telling real world reference is when Jennings cites government cutbacks that affected his company “after the Blackwater shit happened.” Blackwater USA was a Salient-like private military and security contractor for the Department of Defense, Department of State, and Central Intelligence Agency. “We became the ultimate tool in the war on terror, pushing a thousand contractors into Iraq and hundreds more into Afghanistan,” boasted former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince in his 2013 book with Davin Coburn.
Prince– his sister Betsy DeVos is Trump’s Secretary of Education– launched the company in 1998 on a 6,000 acre site in North Carolina near the Virginia border. On October 12, 2002 terrorists hit the U.S.S. Cole in Aden, Yemen. That got Blackwater a $35.7 million contract for “force protection training” of U.S. Navy sailors. Between 2004 and 2007 Blackwater suffered and inflicted casualties in Baghdad, Fallujah and Najaf. Since then the controversial company changed its name twice.
When Jennings mentions “the Blackwater shit” he means things like Blackwater killing 17 civilians in Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The Independent of London called it “Baghdad’s `Bloody Sunday’” in a September 21 headline. “I had to investigate some of Salient’s messes when I was over in Iraq,” notes FBI Agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith), who confronts Jennings in the course of investigating the Trumbull assassination attempt.
The most topical lines in “Angel Has Fallen” come from Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson), who is sworn in as acting President and has no first name for some reason. Claiming that suspect Banning had “full support of top levels of the Russian government,” Kirby warns if the U.S. takes no action against the Russians “they’ll remain ambiguous as to their involvement so we look weak just like with their election tampering.” To not look weak, Kirby continues: “ I have just signed an executive order calling for the use of a bold and strong private contractor force to be employed in our strategy.” Salient will get what we can presume is a big no-bid contract. There’s a hostile take-over inside the White House.
“Fallen” film evildoers are variously motivated by profit, revenge and lastly ideology.
In “Olympus” Kang (Rick Yune) told kidnapped U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart): “I’m working for justice, to give millions of starving men, women, and children a chance at more than just subsistence. To end the civil war your country interrupted so long ago.” For revenge he hacked warheads in U.S. missile silos. “Your country will be a cold dark nuclear wasteland. Now too America shall know suffering and famine,” he predicted.
“London” opens with a newscaster briefing us: “International security experts say the Barkawi family is now instigating violence in remote capitals to foster instability and thus fuel massive arms sales around the globe.” Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) explained: “This man is responsible for more deaths than the plague. Sells arms to every failed state in the world. He has a vast array of connections. Terrorists, mercenaries, corporations.” G-8 leaders authorized a U.S. drone strike targeting Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) at his daughter’s wedding. He survived. So did his two sons. The bride did not. Barkawi sought revenge.
“Angel” includes a White House press conference before Trumbull goes fishing. Reporters ask: “Mr President, with Russia continuing to extend its military well beyond its borders what is your strategy from stopping them from reforming the old Soviet Union?” and “There are rumors in the White House that your new foreign policy will broaden the use of private contractors to help bolster American troops who remain scattered around the globe. Is there any truth to that?” Pissed at the leak underlying the latter question, Trumbull tersely vents, “I’m tired, sick and tired, of a handful of people profiting from our military” and walks out.
Not that anyone invested in “Angel Has Fallen” is anti-profit. Lionsgate press notes quote producer Butler: “[W]e wanted to put in as many epic sequences as we could possibly fit. That’s exactly what they accomplished. Olympus and London each had about 13 action sequences. Here we’ve upped that to 23 sequences, which is a lot. It never stops. And they worked to make sure the audience feels every bump and explosion.”
Banning is not into nuancing international policy. In the first two films he told overseas bad guys to go back to the United People’s Front of Who-Gives-a-Fuck and Fuckheadistan, respectively. In “Angel Has Fallen” the battered agent turns inward, heading into a theta wave state at a Zero Gravity Center to get “unfucked.”