Well, Scott, for the third time this summer, the White House is under siege.
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
Yep. More gunfire and explosives have gone off in the White House this summer than in both World Wars combined.
President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pulling US troops out of the Middle East and that has his political opponents up in arms. Meanwhile, DC Capitol police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) is trying to get into the Secret Service to impress his 12-year-old daughter Emily (Joey King) who runs a video blog about all things having to do with the White House. They are on a White House tour when the Capitol building is blown up as a diversion for an attack on the White House itself.
Cale’s first priority is to find Emily, who is in a downstairs restroom when the terrorists storm the White House. He eludes capture from the terrorists and soon finds himself in the unique position of rescuing President Sawyer from their grasp. Much of the remainder of the movie consists of the terrorists hunting down the two men in the myriad of rooms, elevator shafts, and basements.
Aside from the setup, this looks amazingly similar to last April’s Olympus Has Fallen. And a vague similarity to March’s GI Joe Retaliation (which also starred Channing Tatum). I guess Hollywood just cannot get enough of attacking the White House. Unlike these two films, however, White House Down has a political component as it attacks the American military industrial complex. The bad guys in the other films are external terrorists whereas the villains in White House Down are attacking from the inside.
I found this movie to be a bit uneven. I was entertained at times, but at other times I grew frustrated that the film wasn’t realizing its full potential.
Channing Tatum nicely recovers from his humiliating cameo in This is the End. In White House Down, Tatum’s character, Cale, plays a classic underdog hero. He has a checkered past and is laughably underqualified for the Secret Service position that he seeks. After being rejected for the position, Cale is implausibly put in the position of trying to save everyone and everything – his daughter, the President, the White House and, yes, the world itself. That’s a pretty good day’s work for any hero.
Jamie Foxx plays a President who is sort of a Barack Obama Deluxe — young, cool, hip, funny, and somehow able to bring all the countries of the world together, even the countries that hate us. Foxx surprised me; he plays a better President than I would have imagined.
As with the other films we mentioned, the story is completely unbelievable. There were standout moments that set this film apart from the others. There is a scene where President Sawyer has to choose between one life and giving over the codes to America’s nuclear arsenal. A similar situation presented itself in Olympus Has Fallen and the President caved. Here, the President explains that he can’t spare one life in the face of millions. That was a much more believable moment than we’ve seen in other films.
However there were dozens of improbable scenes where scrambled jets took forever to arrive on-scene only to have the mission aborted because an underling decided that there was going to be too much collateral damage.
This movie features an interesting ensemble of villains. We have muscle-bound oafs, right-wing fascists, nerdy misfits, and political cronies who misuse their power (James Woods and Richard Jenkins). James Woods shines in particular. There are very few actors — Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro come to mind – who can portray unstable people with anger management issues as well as James Woods.
There are also some strange attempts at humor in situations that are obviously not humorous. The White House tour guide chides an unstable, machine-gun-toting terrorist for putting his feet on the furniture. President Sawyer has quite a few one-liners, some oddly delivered during moments of crisis. One could argue that humor is needed to lighten the heaviness of a scene, but I wonder if the movie isn’t winking at us as if to say, “we know this is the third White House takeover movie this year and so we’ll be funnier than the first two.”
I agree, Scott. The humor in this movie was terribly timed and placed in strange places. On both sides of the hero/villain divide there were attempts at light-heartedness that missed the mark completely.
This movie also had a problem dividing the focus between two heroes. Channing Tatum was the clear action hero while Jamie Foxx was the more cerebral hero. But the writers had to make Foxx look presidential and in control while Tatum blew away the bad guys. I think they would have been better off with a less popular actor in the president’s role so that a clear hero could emerge. This simply wasn’t a good buddy film and the president role held back the action portion of the film.
But it wasn’t terrible, either, Greg. White House Down is a capably crafted story of underdog redemption featuring a man who has everything to prove, his precocious and resourceful daughter, and a U.S. President on a mission to engineer world peace. The movie’s strengths are its memorable heroes and villains and some good action scenes. The movie suffers from being the third White House takeover movie this year, plus it drags on a bit too long and could have benefited from more judicious editing. I give White House Down 2 Reels out of 5.
The hero, John Cale, is a man who is put to numerous tests and manages to pass them all with the help of his daughter and Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhall). We see some elements of the classic hero’s journey but other elements are muted or missing, such as a father figure, a love interest, and an obvious inner quality that the hero discovers. I award John Cale 3 Heroes out of 5.
Fair enough Scott. However, I’d like to point out that you gave Olympus Has Fallen a better score and in my humble opinion White House Down is the better film. Many elements that are exposed in the film come full circle in the end: the relationship between the divorced father and his estranged daughter, the fallen hero who saves the day, the president who has to save his own life in the face of world disaster. These are all exploited to good effect. However, I was turned off by the clumsy political message that the military industrial complex is to blame for the world’s problems. Such propaganda should be left to the likes of Atlas Shrugged.
So for a fun action film with a flawed buddy element I give White House Down 3 out of 5 Reels. And for an enjoyable if not overused hero pattern, White House Down scores 3 out of 5 Heroes.