A Spirited Debate With The Director Of ‘Angel Has Fallen’ About His Movie’s Politics


As I tell Angel Has Fallen director Ric Roman Waugh, I was kind of shocked by how much I enjoyed his movie. (I’m sure a director just loves hearing that.) Antoine Fuqua’s Gerard Butler vehicle, Olympus Has Fallen, was the surprise underdog winner against White House Down in the 2013 battle of “White House under siege” movies. The sequel, London Has Fallen, suffered story-wise, but still made over $200 million worldwide.

And now here comes chapter three, with a late August release date, it would be easy to just assume this is movie going through the motions, but, instead, it somewhat reinvents itself as a character study of Butler’s Mike Banning, as he’s on the run, framed for an assassination attempt, in a movie that touches on topics like Russian election meddling to the proliferation of wars fought by private contractors. At one point, a bad guy literally says a phrase that is very similar to the current president’s catchphrase. Angel Has Fallen, surprisingly, has a lot to say.

But its director, Ric Roman Waugh, prefers to be, let’s say, a little more coy about his personal feelings. He says he doesn’t want Angel Has Fallen to be political, but that’s kind of hard to believe. Ahead, Waugh tries his best to convince me that Angel Has Fallen isn’t a political movie, even though I’m not really buying it.

I want to word this the best possible way because this is a movie I didn’t really think I’d like, but I was surprised did. Does that make sense?

No, it does. Gerard Butler and I have been wanting to work together for a number of years. And when he came to me about doing the third installment, what he expressed, he didn’t want to make just another installment. These kinds of Die Hard movies have become a little bit ’80s, right? We talked about what about making this one about Mike Banning, a character study? Think about Skyfall in the Bond Franchise, very much about who is James Bond? And also, what Jerry came up with, I flipped over: Let’s use a plot engine where he’s framed for an assassination attempt that gives us a chance to show Mike Banning on defense.

Well, you mentioned Skyfall and James Bond. I think a lot of people have thought about who James Bond is? I don’t think a lot of people have thought about who Mike Banning is, but I’m glad you did it anyway.

I’m not trying to compare either franchise. It was just more of a story arc of what is a new way to bring to this franchise and an interesting direction? And, to me, it was about character. I think that we’re tired of the ’80s kind of mindless action movies that where the protagonist is impervious to pain, impervious to flaws.

This delves into many contemporary issues I wasn’t expecting, like Russian election meddling…

It’s a very fine line that I try to walk. I don’t ever try to give you my opinion on hot button issues. I just tried to present them.

I think you did give your opinion a bit though, I think I know your opinion…

I don’t think you do. I think you’re showing what I wanted to show is the left and the right. And I’m neither. It’s about what we’re trying to deal with — the dangers around the world right down today. There are a lot of pros to private contracting. There are cons to it. Trying to show both sides of it, and the War Powers Act, and a lot of the different issues that we’re facing today. There are definitely some very contemporary issues in the movie that you have seen from characters in our own politics. But, hopefully, the movie doesn’t come off as political in a way of just showing you the relevancy, showing you these hot-topic issues that are going on so that we’re not dumbing down the plot and giving you things that feel far-fetched, or completely fiction or fictional.

Well, I didn’t necessarily mean politics. I mean, I think I know how you feel about the military industrial complex…

That’s evident. I am a massive military supporter. I love our men and women in uniform. And that goes for our law enforcement, our first responder community. They all don’t get enough credit. And, yeah, we are a fictional version, a fictional world. But you try to bring in these relevant issues of the danger of the job, the dangers of our men and women face around the world. Let’s face it, the world’s becoming a very, very dangerous place as it is. There’s no question that’s part of my opinion, and that’s not an opinion that’s just my belief.

But I also feel like in this movie you’re adding that you don’t like it when they’re put in situations they shouldn’t be in only to profit companies.

Yeah, and I think that’s something that we need to have a debate about with private contracting. Private contracting has been working for quite a long time and there’s a lot of pros to it and a lot of benefits to it, of who’s going to be out there keeping us safe when we’re spread out so far around the world? There are cons to it as well, like, there’s a line in the movie about, it’s not the same fighting for money as it is fighting for your flag. That’s a debate that we need to have. And to me, my favorite character to infuse in the movie was the Clay Banning character, Nick Nolte. Not only because it’s the wonderful world of Nick Nolte, you have a father who actually is the antithesis to that, which is the more classical version of PTSD of shell-shock of trying to shake off the trauma of war and get away from it.

You mentioned not trying to go too far on politics on either side, but a bad guy character literally says a slightly altered version of Make America Great Again.

It’s interesting that I didn’t even think about that, to be honest with you. I think that one of the things that starts coming as those catchphrases, and especially when we made the movie, it wasn’t as that much in the forefront. But we did try to strip away things that felt like they were any kind of being too on the nose of certain people. I mean, you can take a lot of the relevancy of this movie and look back into the origins of 9/11, and the Cheney world and Halliburton and Blackwaters and everything else. I mean, look at the cycle of this from the Vietnam War and on. We’ve been using the war machine for generations, and the players keep changing, but it’s all the same thing.

Again, I surprisingly liked this a lot more than I thought I would. I don’t want you to think otherwise based on the questions I had. There are just some interesting themes here.

No, Mike, it’s okay. I mean, you’re music to my ears because you’re asking me about things that we were trying to put in that are relevant, but also want to be entertaining at the same time, and that’s what my job is. It’s a very fine line to play where you’re not. Again, I hope I don’t create movies that are mindless action, but that actually have something to say and you can be entertained at the same time. It’s a fine line that we walk, and that we can kind of dance around all that stuff.

‘Angel Has Fallen’ opens this Friday, August 23rd. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.