Movie Review: White House Down (2013, Dir. Roland Emmerich)

White House Down 2013 Review

This review is probably going to read differently than the other reviews I have written on this site. Usually I like explaining how the art director emphasized the film’s themes, how the lighting created by the director of photography showed the mental progressions of each character, how the writing failed to be lyrical enough to work or be so beautiful it cast a spell over my heart. I usually like mentioning the director’s contributions, how he emphasized certain scenes with some stylistic ‘pizazz,’ as I usually mention at least one specific shot that impressed me in my reviews. I enjoy commenting on a film’s cinematic value.

Well, White House Down does not really have any cinematic value. And you know what? I am fine with this.

The director, writers, director of photography, art director, etc. may have thought this would be a serious piece of work, but the actors apparently thought otherwise. This blend of ‘in the know’ and ‘not’ works incredibly well, turning a possible action-drama into one of the funniest summer action flicks of the year. So, dear reader, if you want someone to blame for this non-review, blame the actors.

The movie follows the white house getting taken over by a disgruntled employee. The main villain Walker (James Woods) is said disgruntled employee, who enlists the aid of a bunch of mercenaries (and a hacker, who I write about below) with grudges against the white house. Channing Tatum (Magic Mike, Side Effects) plays a down-on-his-luck father who wants to be a secret service agent. He and his daughter (Joey King, who was Young-Marion Cotillard in The Dark Knight Rises) are in the white house for a job interview. When the white house gets attacked, they get stuck. It is preeeeetty intense.

All of the actors play their parts so ridiculously over the top it is fantastic. By ‘fantastic’ I mean ‘hilarious’. One of the standouts, Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby), plays the leader of the hired goons. He performs his role partly like David Lyons did in Safe Haven (read my review here). By that I mean he just shouted shitty lines as if his life depended on it whenever he was supposed to say something with ferocity. It worked with the tone the other actors created (I say actors and not the director, Roland Emmerich, because there is no way he did this intentionally). When the writer, James Vanderbilt, wrote something halfway witty, Clarke nailed it. When the media starts covering the attack, he says offhand to Walker, “Apparently we’re Arab.” It, along with many other moments like this one, is PERFECT.

Another one of the villains who crushes it is Jimmi Simpson (the unreleased Knights of Badassdom, Hello I Must Be Going, and Liam McPoyle in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), as a hacker named Tyler. Does he go over the top with it? Yeah he does! That is a recurring theme thy readers shall see: me pointing out the actors over-acting in a positive manner. One could describe him as eccentric, but that would not be enough. Someone in the film mentions that he, “Once attempted to hack a military base to send missiles towards Apple headquarters because he didn’t like their music sharing policies.” That sentence? Perfectly describes the character. He is wonderful in this movie and steals every scene he is in.

Now onto Django and Magic Mike themselves, Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum. These two make for a very dynamic and charismatic duo who play their parts perfectly while on screen. Foxx is El Presidente and Tatum is ex-army, now aspiring to be a Secret Service agent. When Foxx is alone on screen, the audience can tell where Vanderbilt was going while writing the screenplay. He wanted to create a President Bartlet (see: The West Wing) esque character with large amounts of knowledge in the country, and who wants to make a difference. Unfortunately, I do not believe Vanderbilt knows enough about the history of America nor how to make any form of difference, so he was unable to make it believable in any way that the character does. Tatum’s character has the exact same problems when alone, except instead of being a president, he has a child. Vanderbilt wanted the audience to know that Tatum used to be immature, hard to work with, and so on, but now he is reformed. All the audience sees is a man making kinda-but-not-really witty exchanges with his daughter. Again, Vanderbilt’s fault.

Fortunately, when the two characters come together, it works well. Tatum and Foxx play off of each other very well and they do all they can with their ‘characters’. They both are funny-as-hell in their own ways, Tatum with his ridiculous action stunts and solid physical humor, and Foxx with his perfect delivery of probably improvised one liners.

Although I am ignoring most of its cinematic faults (like the whole film part of it), I have to mention how annoyed I was at certain things. Tatum’s character’s daughter, for instance, has one of the most annoying clichéd scenes in the movie. Tatum and his daughter are talking, and he mentions ‘her blog’. “Silly, no one says ‘blog’ anymore!” she replies in paraphrased fashion. “But I just learned ‘blog’ this week!” Tatum explains, knowing he has lost his chance at getting his daughter to love him hyperbolically. “Old people” (or in this case, 33 year-olds) not understanding technology, internet terms, or anything like that has to stop showing up in movies. Seriously. It’s over. The joke was slightly amusing the first time. 58,384 times later? Not so much. Stop.

All of my tens of readers should have learned by now that, in technical terms, White House Down is not very good. However, if you look at it as a comedy, it is hilarious and a great time.


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