Movie Review: White House Down

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A police officer takes his daughter to the White House for his Secret Service interview just as the famous building is attacked, leaving him the only man capable of protecting the President and his daughter.

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Roland Emmerich, 2013

The appropriately action-hero-monikered John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a war veteran and police officer assigned to Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), whose son’s life he saved during the war. He wants to work in the Secret Service, and he takes his politics-obsessed daughter Emily (Joey King) to the White House for his interview. It turns out he’s being interviewed by old acquaintance Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who knows about his unreliable past and denies him the job. The White House is then bombed while Emily is in the bathroom, separating her from her father. Meanwhile, President James Sawyer (no, not that one, this one is played by Jamie Foxx) finds himself at the action side of the guns of the paramilitary mercenary bad guys, and needs saving by Cale himself. They attempt to smuggle Sawyer out of the house before the chain of command passes out of his hands and the people on the outside make stupid decisions that get lots of people killed. They also need to stop the bad guys from carrying out their evil plot, complicated by the fact that Emily’s gotten on their bad side with her youthful YouTubing ways and the bravery she’s inherited from her parents.

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This is actually a pretty solid action flick, tongue firmly in cheek, but providing plenty of tension to keep you involved for its running time. Roland Emmerich’s signature macho mix of explosions, beatdowns, special effects, destruction of landmarks, car chases (!), and fatherly drama are all present, and the plot is predictable enough. Plucky young Emily easily steals the show in every scene she’s in, despite having some pretty nasty stuff happen to her. A surprising amount of the plot actually rests on her eleven-year-old badass shoulders, and Joey King is a talent worth watching. Maggie Gyllenhaal is mostly reduced to watching on helplessly, though she gets a few moments in. The film belongs to Channing Tatum and, to a lesser extent, Jamie Foxx, though, and their chemistry doesn’t quite get off the ground. They have a few good moments, like in the aforementioned car chase, but you never really feel them bonding over their daughters. They’re better kicking butt separately, particularly Jamie Foxx as the slightly nerdy academic Sawyer who wears white sneakers to kick bad guy butt.

There is, of course, enough spectacle to keep you amused, even though the action is more “contained” than other Emmerich movies. Each dramatic scene is punctuated by a fight, gunfire, or an explosion after about the half-hour mark. The sense of humour about itself is really what saves this movie – a tongue-in-cheek reference to Independence Day, for instance, or Cale’s line “well, you didn’t give me the job!” It’s not brilliantly written, but it’s written with the fun of the audience in mind, something more po-faced action movies (I’m looking at you, Jack Ryan) could do with. It’s a big dumb movie that knows it’s a big dumb movie, and doesn’t try to be anything different, but it does so without being actively misogynistic, racist or cruel, which a lot of other films do. Granted, it’s still all about Muscled Men Fighting, doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, and there’s an acceptance of violence up to a point (but when that point is crossed, hoo boy, you don’t want to be the one who crossed it). There are also some pretty major plot holes and convenient plot points, but if you want to just watch something for the visceral thrill and turn off your brain for a couple of hours, you can do a lot worse.

White House Down on IMDb

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