OK, so I have a confession to make: I thought I would review “Angel Has Fallen” because the two preceding it (“Olympus Has Fallen” and “London Has Fallen”), both starring Gerard Butler, I thought were incredibly mediocre, by-the-numbers action thrillers. And I was sure this would be the same, giving me an opportunity to riff on how many times Morgan Freeman has played the U.S. president in a film.
I’ve been asking people all week, “How many times do you think Morgan Freeman has played the president?” And the numbers have ranged from four to 12. But guess what — this is only the second time. The first was 1998’s “Deep Impact.” Yes, true. Even I missed the guess by two.
Freeman did play Nelson Mandela in “Invictus.” And he played God twice, in “Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty,” and it’s there that I think people go wrong. I mean, there are a few who confuse the two. Oddly, however, Freeman’s most famous role is as a long-term prisoner in the great “Shawshank Redemption” (1994). Freeman, as President Trumbull, spends most of his time in a coma in this, but when he’s awake you by-God know he’s president.
Butler reprises his role as Mike Banning, vaunted Secret Service agent assigned to the president’s detail, known for being whip smart, tough, creative when necessary and unstoppable. But things have been harder for him lately. He’s suffering migraines, insomnia, dizziness and other latent effects of too many concussions. He’s been seeing doctors, different ones, for pain meds, and he’s afraid to tell his wife, and certainly his boss. The president is about to name a new head of the agency, and Banning is expected to take it, but he doesn’t know if he’s up to the job.
Then, there’s an attempt to assassinate POTUS while he’s fishing on a day off, a highly-planned, sophisticated attempt using hundreds of explosive drones. Mike’s whole team is taken out, helicopters, agents on the banks, in other boats, everyone. And the president’s boat is blown up.
Trumbull would have been in it had Banning not shoved him into the water. While nearly all the attention is focused on the president’s health and well-being, the FBI operative leading the investigation (a you-don’t-want-to-mess-with-me Jada Pinkett Smith) has her people spread out looking for what caused this, and Banning’s prints and DNA are all over it. Someone wants him out of the picture. And unfortunately you can see who immediately. He even looks like the villain.
Director Ric Roman Waugh, working from a screenplay by him, Robert Mark Kamen and Matt Cook, makes sure all the current headline boxes are ticked: opiates, Russian interference in U.S. politics, citizen vigilantes and the question of private defense contractors — think Eric Prince’s private security firm in Iraq, Blackwater.
The lovely Piper Perabo is little-used as Banning’s wife. However, a real surprise is a grizzled Nick Nolte who turns up as Mike’s estranged father, a damaged Vietnam vet who abandoned his wife and son early on, thinking he was doing them a favor. Mike’s skills in the service led him to keep up with the old man’s Social Security number all those years.
I thought I’d be able to say little about this film. I was mistaken. It moves like a runaway train from start to finish.
See you at the movies.
Toni Clem is a Paris resident and has been writing Deja View for more than 30 years.