Review – Clichéd Threequel Still Has Wings (“Angel Has Fallen”)

No, this isn’t a movie about fallen angels, although that probably would have been a far better and more interesting film. Instead, this is the third entry in the “… Has Fallen” franchise you may have heard about, starring Gerard Butler as the indestructible and trigger-happy bodyguard to the POTUS.

First off, if you saw 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen or the sequel, 2016’s London Has Fallen, the plots were exactly the same: Butler played super Secret Service agent Mike Banning to POTUS Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and always ended up protecting him when a bunch of terrorists attacked either the White House or London. In either case, Banning always saved the day. Yaay! Why this guy isn’t a Marvel character is a mystery. Anyway, here it is 2019, and Banning is now protecting the new POTUS, Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). Heck, what could possibly go wrong?

After being shot, stabbed, beaten up and blown-up, Mike is suffering from all sorts of ailments, but doggoneit! He is NOT gonna let those nasty migraines and severe body aches stop him from protecting… wait, are those exploding killer drones after the POTUS? Kaboom! Okay, so Mike saved the POTUS, but someone has gone to great lengths to frame him for attempting to kill the Prez, and FBI Agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) has uncovered all kinds of dirt on Mike that make him look super guilty. While the Prez languishes in a coma, the power-mad Vice-Prez (Tim Blake Nelson) has been sworn in as the acting POTUS and wants to crucify Mike for his “ties to Russia”.

Mike meanwhile, like Dr. Kimball in The Fugitive, is on the run after being transported by the Feds, but freed by the same terrorists that framed him. Who is the criminal mastermind behind all his woes? Telegraphed early on, it’s easy to figure out that Mike’s former comrade, Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), is not only a traitor, but a lousy friend. Wade just wants to secure some million-dollar civilian contract and he’ll do anything to get it, even killing off the POTUS and his buddy Mike! But our blunt-instrument “guardian angel” hero won’t go quietly into that good night and calls upon his estranged dad (Nick Nolte, giving ‘grizzled old man’ a whole new meaning) for help. Turns out, dear ol’ dad may be old and cranky, but he packs a wallop!

Naturally, Jennings’ plans for domination go to hell as Mike outwits, outplays, and outlasts his opponent and his army of gun-toting thugs. There’s shoot-outs galore, explosions a’pleny, and our hero defying the laws of nature by surviving extreme bodily injuries that would kill your normal human. But, what can you expect from this third go-around in the franchise? Co-writer & director Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch), along with writers Matt Cook (Patriots Day) and Robert Mark Kamen (Columbiana), must have gotten real tired by now, ’cause this screenplay is just about as clichéd and by-the-numbers as you can get.

Every action trope from every other movie has either been stolen or reused here: hero has best friend betray him? Check! Hero has his own government turn on him?  Check! The VP is the bad guy calling the shots? Done! Hero has an estranged relative or friend that (reluctantly) helps him out? Yup! Requisite chase through the backwoods of some state while staying one step ahead of the law? Done & done! Hero gets into brutal, bone-crunching fights that would have killed a normal man? You betcha! Hero ends the film with a mano-a-mano fight with the main villain? Gee… what do you think?

Even though you’ve SEEN all this before (and you have), this movie still has a small glimmer of quality about it, despite the silly dialogue, the artificial plot, and the cardboard characters. The actors, for one, really commit to the story and find a foothold in the dullness. Take Morgan Freeman for example; a small, thankless role that he simply excels in doing without phoning it in. In fact, no one does in this movie, which is the one remarkable thing about it. As witless and stereotypical the film is, it isn’t without its boundless energy, action sequences, or Butler’s gung-ho attitude.

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Based on the novel, Six Days of the Condor by James Grady, this political thriller and who-done-it has a powder-keg of amazing talent behind it: Director Sydney Pollack, prolific co-screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. adapting the book, and an incredible cast to die for. Don’t remember this film? Rent or stream it now!

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is a bookish CIA analyst, code named “Condor”. He works at the American Literary Historical Society in New York City, which is secretly a clandestine CIA office. The seven staff members read books, newspapers, and magazines from around the world, looking for hidden meanings and other useful information. But one day when Turner is expecting a response to his report, he steps out to pick up the staff lunches, and that’s when armed men enter the office and murder the other six staff members. Turner returns to find his coworkers dead and panics.

He contacts the CIA’s New York headquarters from a phone booth (the 70’s, remember?) and is given instructions to meet Wicks (Michael Kane), his head of department, who will bring him to safety. But the rendezvous is a trap and Turner, shot, wounded, scared, and on the run, encounters a woman, Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) on the street and forces her into her apartment. Holding her hostage while he tries to figure out what’s happening, Hale slowly starts to trust Turner, and they become lovers. Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?

However, Joubert (Max Von Sydow), who led the massacre of Turner’s co-workers, discovers Turner’s hiding place and gets a hitman to kill Turner, but he fails. No longer trusting anyone at “the Company”, Turner plays a deadly cat-and-mouse game with CIA deputy director Higgins (Cliff Robertson). Turner, investigating further, finds CIA operations director Leonard Atwood (Addison Powell) and interrogates him at gunpoint, learning that it was HE that ordered the hit on Turner’s office! That would be great news, if it weren’t for assassin Joubert walking in and killing Atwood right then!

Joubert explains his orders from the CIA to Turner and suggests the he leave the country, but Turner rejects the suggestion. Joubert’s warns Turner that the CIA will try to eliminate him as another embarrassment, so Turner decides to go public with his information. What’s really scary about this movie is that, with all the movie’s cloak ‘n’ dagger sinister action going on, it has all the earmarks of a real-life story that was presumably swept under the rug somehow. Released weeks after the Watergate incident, it smacked of political intrigue and pointed fingers at the CIA and the U.S. government, something many didn’t like.

Critics loved it for its politically charged story and slam-bang directing & acting, but audiences gave it mostly a pass, which is too bad. This is a terrific film and shows off Redford, Dunaway, Robertson, and Von Sydow in mostly moderate roles, but it’s the complex, dizzying story of one man on the run that is the real fun. Redford, always at the top of his game, gives a bravura performance as a man not only accused of multiple homicide, but his own people are out for his blood.

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