White House Down (2013)

As we near Donald Trump’s first hundred days as the President of the United States, it’s safe to say that we are living in truly absurd political times. I figured the appropriate way to cope would be to watch an equally absurd politically themed movie, so here we are. As things sometimes turn out, this bombastic action thriller is marginally more sober-minded than whatever it is that we’re currently watching unravel in the nation’s capital. At least White House Down makes perfect sense within the Roland Emmerich world of apocalyptic shit shows, and there’s the satisfaction of knowing that not only do the good guys always win but the bad guys definitely get punished.

So, possibly helped by the times, I must recommend White House Down, the enjoyable political disaster movie starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx as the heroes our country desperately needs. One (Tatum) is in the mold of your traditional action star. A brusk loner with an authority problem, John Cale recognizes the sins of his past and just wants to do right by his girl, Emily (Joey King). She is his precocious middle school daughter, a walking encyclopedia of political history and current events, but is none too impressed with her estranged father. In part to earn back some daddy points, he hopes for a career upgrade from protection detail for House Speaker Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) to Secret Service agent.

It’s on their way out from the interview that they crash a White House tour and meet the other man of the hour, President James Sawyer (Foxx), channeling his very best Barack Obama. Six months ago, a chill black president who’s a little too professorial and a little too much of a dove would be par for course, but now there’s something Twilight Zone about it. If only Obama really had gotten that third term, maybe we’d all be laughing now. In any case, Sawyer rebuffs Cale, not knowing that this man will save his life and his whole damn country by nightfall. That’s because a group of mercenaries, some with elite military training and a massive grudge, has infiltrated the Capitol Building and the White House, and they’ve got inside help. There is just so much treachery in Washington.

Director Emmerich guides the story along with the steady hand of one who has blown up presidential quarters before, which is useful since the White House proves to be a very big playground. The action isn’t always graceful and is too often reliant on unimpressive special effects and green screen, but the movie rushes along at a steady pace, zipping back and forth between considerable explosions, tight firefights, and actual fights. All of this is supported by a low-key chemistry between Tatum and Foxx that keeps the mood serious but only just so. Tatum has less rapport with Maggie Gyllenhaal, a former love interest and potential superior. They don’t share many scenes together, but it doesn’t matter because the appeal is Tatum shooting things whilst clad in a tiny tank top.

And to be sure, there is a lot of shooting going on here. Some people will be aghast at the carnage. I don’t mean the body count, which gets pretty high pretty quick, but the priceless artifacts that are used as target practice. The only person who senses the devastation is the droll tour guide (Nicolas Wright). In fairness though, this physical blowing up of the White House is preferable to the metaphorical one that is happening right now.

Released: 2013
Prod: Roland Emmerich, Bradley J. Fischer, Harald Kloser, James Vanderbilt, Larry Franco, Laeta Kalogridis
Dir: Roland Emmerich
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, James Woods, Joey King, Nicolas Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Michael Murphy, Lance Reddick
Time: 131 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017