Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal
“There’s the Capitol Building, that’s the building they blew up in Independence Day!” says a White House tour guide near the start of Roland Emmerich’s larger than life actioner; subtle it isn’t. After Gerard Butler screamed ‘America: Fuck Yeah’ in the overly patriotic, gung-ho bollocks that was Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down, for all of it failings, feels like a breath of fresh air. Emmerich, that master of disaster, has always got a kick from destroying the White House, so it comes as little surprise that he has now managed to find a project with the sole objective of leveling 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What is surprising is its lightness of touch; Emmerich takes his cue from the earlier Die Hard films, back before McClane lost his funny & traveled to Russia, and creates a good old-fashioned big bangs for your buck blockbuster, complete with the US President firing a rocket launcher from a limo.
This time POTUS is Obama replica James Sawyer, who’s about to withdraw troops from the Middle East in a bid for peace. John Cale is the rejected Secret Service agent who joins forces with Sawyer to take back the President’s house when American mercenaries takeover. What plays out is a sort-of buddy action movie, with the two lead’s seamless chemistry allowing for laughs in amongst the almost endless explosions. Both Channing Tatum & Jamie Foxx excel and in a nice shift from the norm, these aren’t two characters that take time to form an understanding, but ones who instantly connect, allowing the film’s pace to be unrelentingly jacked up.
As always though, Emmerich struggles to set the scene and the opening is where the film mainly suffers. The laughs feel forced (Tatum trying to negotiate with a rogue squirrel) and the exposition clichéd. It’s a jarring 20 minutes, with enough unnecessarily overused political and security acronyms to make your head spin. Maggie Gyllenhaal & Richard Jenkins stand in various offices looking tired, which they do for pretty much the entire film and James Woods chews up scenery with as much gusto as he shows for his retirement cake. Thankfully, just as you’re about to nod off Woods and his gang of rednecks for hire blow up the Capitol Building (of course) and Emmerich hits the ground running.
The director hasn’t lost his eye for action and the multiple shootouts that take place within the White House complex are both thrilling & funny, thanks to the Tatum/Foxx dynamic. Unlike Olympus Has Fallen, the antagonists are given actual personalities, which allows the audience to invest more in what they are watching. In a nice throwback to the first Die Hard, we even have one who enjoys listening to Beethoven while hacking into the NORAD weapons program.
It’s when Emmerich takes the action to the White House lawn that the film surprisingly suffers. For a man who managed to convincingly show the decimation of the planet in his previous two movies, the majority of the action outside the President’s pad is horribly rendered. The location is a hindrance, as it means the majority of the exterior scenes are shot with a green screen and it never quite looks convincing enough. Although a fun car chase around the White House fountain more than makes up for it.
Managing to be both thrilling and fun, White House Down is an unapologetic all out action thriller with enough laughs and loud bangs to keep most entertained. In a year when we’ve already had one disappointing White House invasion movie and a Die Hard film that still leaves a sour taste in the mouth, you can’t help but walk out of White House Down thinking ‘YIPPIE-KI-YAY’.