Nolte gives ‘Angel Has Fallen’ heart, humor

By Chic DiCiccio

For those that are wondering, you can go into “Angel Has Fallen” without seeing the previous “Fallen” films “Olympus Has Fallen” and “London Has Fallen.” Let’s just be nice and say the storylines aren’t exactly deep. 

Nick Nolte in “Angel Has Fallen.”
Photo courtesy of Campbell Grobman Films

That being said, “Angel” is kind of a blast. Literally. From the opening kinetic sequence to the finale set on a Washington D.C. city block, “Angel” is nonstop explosions and gunfire with snippets of quiet. It’s elevated beyond its highly predictable plot by former stuntman turned director Ric Roman Waugh’s thrills and a decent amount of character development. 

After years of saving the world, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is a beaten guy. He’s a pill popping insomniac PTSD sufferer stuck between a promotion to a desk job and his addiction to the juice of being in on the action. This leaves little time for his wife, Leah (Piper Perabo), and toddler, Lynne. 

Mike does get some solid hang time with his former Army colleague and kindred spirit, Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), and his best bud, President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), who both offer life advice. Naturally, the wheels fly off after an assassination attempt on Trumbull leaves him comatose and an elaborate plan frames Mike for the job. 

Waugh (who also co-wrote with Matt Cook and Robert Mark Kamen) puts Mike through his paces as he escapes from capture several times with one involving a big rig car chase that’s just as preposterous as it sounds. He’s on the run from FBI agent Helen Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) and racing against the clock as the newly sworn in President, Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson), is ready to bomb the world in retaliation for the assassination attempt. 

“Angel” really picks up steam once Nick Nolte shows up as Mike’s estranged father Clay. Clay is a Vietnam vet, living off the grid in the hills of West Virginia, and his mental suffering is on par with Mike’s physical trauma. “Angel” does a fantastic job of showing how PTSD affects military personnel without being preachy or flippant. That aspect of the plot is a welcome, thoughtful break from the bombs and bodies. 

Oh, there are many, many bodies. Waugh definitely has no fear of showing numerous people thrown about by exploded mines, riddled with bullets, or flat out executed. It all advances the story, making the violence not pointless, but there is still something uncomfortable about mass death being used for entertainment purposes. 

As a lead producer, there’s little doubt this series has become Butler’s baby. It’s quite possible that Butler recognized how derivative the second entry was and there was far more care put in the creation of “Angel.” There’s also little vanity to his role this time around as his character shows his age and he’s charismatic as ever, adding as much “acting” as possible to an action role. 

Freeman gets to add his name to the list of Greatest Fake Presidents Ever, and Huston, perpetually cast as villains, adds another layer to the pain caused by PTSD. Again, Nolte is the revelation here, and his heartbreaking turn adds warmth and humor in a much-needed way. 

If “Angel Has Fallen” earns a bazillion dollars, it won’t be such a bad thing. The upturn from this movie propels the series to a far more interesting place than “hero does hero things then presses repeat.” If Butler and Co. want to visit this world again, the outlook for a fun two hours seems bright, albeit due to hundreds of fiery explosions.