Ok, so you have created Super Soldiers, you have visited other Planets, destroyed entire Cities, messed with Nuclear Monsters, fought for the Independence of your new country, survived the raw Power of the Weather, gone back in time to fight Sabre-Toothed felines, destroyed entire Cities (again), claimed Shakespeare was a fraud and have been hit by a bolt of Lightning: so your next logical step must be to invade the White House right?….Right?
Released in 2013 by Columbia Pictures; Directed by Roland Emmerich and Produced (as well as written) by James Vanderbilt; White House Down is an Action/Thriller film about an attack on the White House. What is supposedly one of the biggest spec script purchases in cinema history; White House Down happened to be released the same year as another film very similar to it by idea at least in Olympus Has Fallen directed by Antoine Fuqua. I personally have not seen Olympus Has Fallen; but being a fan of Roland Emmerich, this film has been on something of a to do list for a while, and as Independence Day: Resurgence has just been released, I thought I should give Emmerich’s previously latest (BIG) film a look over.
Current President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) has recently been generating controversy over a potential peace treaty that would involve removing armed forces from the Middle East. John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a police officer who formerly fought in the military, and has been assigned as a bodyguard to speaker of the house; Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). Cale really wants to work in the secret service, but after an interview with former college acquaintance and Secret Service agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), he is turned down for the role. Not wanting to let his politically interested swat daughter Emily (Joey King) down, he takes her on a tour of the White House where they run into the President who puts a shout out for Emily on her Vlog. Meanwhile, Secret Service head Martin Walker (James Woods) is celebrating his last week there and orders Carol to go home. As the morning progresses, a janitor detonates a bomb within the US Capitol Building. Raphelson and Finnerty are taken to an underground command centre underneath the Pentagon, while Vice President Alvin Hammond (Michael Murphy) is taken aboard Air Force One. The White House is locked down separating Cale from his daughter, and a group of mercenaries led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke) start killing off security and take hostages, with Cale escaping just in time. Walker escorts the President to the building’s Emergency Operations Room, but there kills Sawyer’s guards, and reveals himself as the group’s leader. Cale arrives in the nick of time after failing to locate his daughter and rescues the President.
Outside the press arrive, and news circulates fast, but Emily using her phone gets video footage from inside, outside, before she gets captured by Carl Killick (Kevin Rankin). Meanwhile Walker and Stenz bring in Skip Tyler (Jimmi Simpson) to hack the building’s databases, but still require the President to unlock a nuclear weapons briefcase (or Nuclear Football if you so wish). At the Pentagon, Carol clashes with army general Caulfield (Lance Reddick) as to how they handle the situation while Vice President Hammond plans to switch control to himself. Cale manages to get a line through to Carol who tells him the best way of getting the President out. The military is already positioned outside, but require the President’s permission to storm the building. Using Emily’s video they are able to ID the men, and from Walker’s wife, they discover that Walker is dying and wants revenge on Sawyer for the death of his son. Cale and Sawyer eventually find a way out in a secret tunnel (built by JFK to move Marilyn Monroe in and out of the White House), but find it rigged to blow. They make another desperate scheme to get out by using the Presidential Limo, but it gets turned over and crashed into a pool. After a quick kerfuffle with Walker and Stenz, an explosion erupts, presumably killing Sawyer and Cale. Hammond is then sworn in as President and orders an aerial attack on the White House.
With this knowledge, Cale tries to stop the choppers from being destroyed, but after fighting with Stenz, he is unsuccessful. Skip meanwhile finally breaks into the databases and taking over NORAD, fires a missile at Air Force One, killing everyone on board. Raphelson is sworn in as President and orders an air strike on the White House. After discovering that Emily is Cale’s daughter, Stenz and Walker threaten to kill her if Cale does not give them the President. The President surrenders himself, and Walker reveals that he really admires the President, but wants to destroy the Middle East with a Nuclear Strike. Cale, now with knowledge of the Air Strike and inspired by an old painting, sets fire to several rooms within the White House. After freeing the hostages, Cale fights and kills Stenz. Using the football, Walker has begun targeting the cities in the Middle East, but is killed before he can launch them. With Sawyer and Emily safe, Emily runs outside and waves the Presidential Flag to call off the Air Strike. Emily is branded as a hero, but Cale and Sawyer hear from Finnerty to discover that Walker did not call in the Mercenaries. Raphelson – hoping that the aerial attack on the White House would destroy the evidence – is discovered to have conspired with Walker and wanted to send troops back into the Middle East, going against Sawyer’s treaty. Raphelson is arrested by Sawyer’s orders, who then names Cale as his new Special Agent and takes both him and Emily on a helicopter ride.
If you look at the poster for this film, one thing that immediately becomes abundantly clear is that this film comes from the Director of the films: Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Highlighting this piece of information is by no means a bad thing; many big films that get released today carry information like this on similar lines as it is a great way to advertise a movie. With a film like this highlighting that it is indeed Roland Emmerich who directed it, and that his previous work includes those previously mentioned films highlights, that if you liked those films you might like this one. The added benefit is that as well as that, people who may not have seen those films, but were big popular films; know that this latest film must be of some noticeable attention to note where this new film is coming from also. There is a bad side to this though, as though while those films may not be teaching lessons or winning awards, advertising those films based on their legacy puts pressure on newer films to stand out, because though while Emmerich’s output over the last 20-30 years has been rather successful, it does not mean that the latest film he releases is pure gold (this does not just apply to Emmerich’s output, but to others of course, but we are not talking about them). In stark contrast to his previous and better known works, White House Down is actually a much smaller film. Films like the ones mentioned above have usually involved a worldwide catastrophe caused by events out of human control, whereas here we have an action orientated film about a building under siege. OK, it’s not just some ordinary building, it is the White House after all, but there is no Aliens, No Weather, No Prophecies, just humans. Going into this film I had no real previous knowledge of this film other than seeing a bit of it on TV. So I was completely unaware as to what was going to happen other than expect certain and specific Emmerich movie trademarks. Some people have suggested similarities to films like Die Hard and Air Force One, where as I can see elements more similar of The Rock myself. Setting up an attack on the White House is going to be hard for anyone who dares attempt it, and so far the only time I have seen it work was in an episode of 24. In this case though we get a pretty good idea of what one could look like that is very thrilling, but also very believable.
For the first 30 minutes I must say that this film is rather boring. It suffers some lighting effects, the characters are all rather dull and unimpressive and not much happens. This sort of continues even into the movies main events. But then the film turns everything around and just makes it work, and by the end, I was literally on the edge of my seat. Setting up was definitely a weak spot for this film, and even when things do get going my overall excitement level was rather ‘MEH!’ But then you get big moments, big scenes, explosions, fights, special effects galore and even a shift around for the film’s characters, and it becomes an extremely enjoyable film. I am not necessarily saying that a film needs to have explosions and large amounts of special effects to be good, but it certainly did help to get this film going and generally improve. On the whole it was a combination of nearly everything that finally made it exciting enough to keep watching, get involved and see it through to its rather glorious end. I was looking around on Kermode Uncut (at time of writing) and spotted a post talking about a film that Kermode did not like for the first 30 minutes but then absolutely loved. Now I did not actually watch the video (have since, it was not White House Down, it was Mamma Mia!) but through my mind I wondered if he was talking about this, because I certainly felt that way about it.
The cast is a bit of a shot in the dark if I am honest with some cast members really standing out and others I am not going to bother talking about. Much like the film a large number, especially a lot of the film leads are a bit boring before coming good. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character is a prime example of this. She begins as a really stuck up-tight boss like character always trying to put a smile on but being far too professional and near horrid. She starts this way, and becomes a sort of political woman of action who for the beginning is not worth the hassle. But then while she is in the underground base, she sorts of turns that off and becomes really caring and understanding. I believe Blake Snyder in his book Save the Cat! said that a film is about change, and the lead character or characters must change from who they are into something better by the end. Gyllenhaal proves this by changing from her near horrid start, into a really caring and supportive character by the end and becomes a real stand out. She is much better in this than she was in The Dark Knight (at least she is not grumpy the whole time in White House Down). The same could be said for James Woods. When I saw this on TV, I just could not take Woods seriously as the villain; he seemed to be more like James Woods in Family Guy rather than James Woods playing a character such as he did in Shark. But then he turns it around also, when you hear of the 2 reasons why he is doing what he is doing, and then as the film picks up pace you forget about him being Woods (although it’s hard with such a strong and recognisable voice) and see him more as this very respectful but now very corrupt character who is about to do the unthinkable. He becomes not necessarily a psychopath, but a really good political villain, a leader, not someone who does the killing, but someone who does the ordering.
Like many other films of this genre; comes packed with other actors although not necessarily leads of note who also deserve a mention. People such as the tour guide Donnie (Nicolas Wright), who acts like a comic relief in similar style to the Gadget man from xXx (Michael Roof) but is quirky as he does it. He is not a clown; just someone who takes his job seriously, even in such a tense situation. Then you have someone like Emily’s mother Melanie (Rachelle Lefevre) who adds that real outside tension to the story with the knowledge of her daughter being caught up in the distress. Then there is someone powerful, but also rather scary in Lance Reddick playing General Caulfield. Recently I have been playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II and noted how in that they cast Tony Todd as an Admiral. I thought it was a strange move as his voice does not really lend itself to high military position as it sounded more intimidating than commanding, but I wondered if that was what the film makers were going for here with the casting of Reddick as an army general. He almost seems schizophrenic, if not psychopathic, that combination of look, attitude and voice, it’s very similar I feel to that of Todd in Black Ops II. But it works; he is an interesting cast choice, but still a powerful and intimidating presence that just demands your attention when he is on-screen.
In a similar vein it’s a lot like the character provided by Jason Clarke. I really enjoyed his presence in this film. He was more like a physical bad guy in comparison to Woods, and as the early film appearances ramped up, I was constantly asking, why not just Clarke; why Woods too? Clarke is a man of action and a real tough nut to crack and has some terrific scenes and one of the film’s best lines (“No, I don’t want cake! I’m diabetic!”). But it felt like the producers either had other plans for who they wanted in that part, or had ideas as to whom they wanted Clarke to be like, as Clarke does feel, act and look a bit like Kim Coates I feel. I really did think that at least earlier on, Clarke really helped get this film going, that though while the film was struggling to get a grip and make ground; it already had the perfect man as its villain, delivering a constant presentation right to its end. The character of Emily similarly got me confused with actors, as I thought she was being played by Ivana Baquero from Pan’s Labyrinth. Emily is an interesting one as she seems less like a damsel in distress, but more like Hermione Granger in a hostage situation. She shows herself as a similarly tough nut with great understanding of the President and what he does, and shows a lot of respect for that, but similarly she is also trying to be the stereotypical grumpy teenager, which does not work all too well as she does do a lot of talking rather than sulking. She is pretty fun though, and takes away from the idea that kids are not strong independent people, nor are entirely harmless or are just going to sit in a corner and cry, as Emily shows great courage and confidence throughout and becomes one of the film’s major and bravest heroes.
The dynamic between Foxx and Tatum is uncanny. They work off each other so well. For the earlier parts this film feels like it’s some kind of Action buddy movie, but then becomes something of a Wrestling Tag Team with one being unable to be without the other. They come from different backgrounds, different worlds; but are incredibly realistic and pure joy. Singularly and before they meet, they both struggle. But when they do meet, and come to rely on each other, it’s so impressive to see how they just click and work off each other like they have done it before. Foxx is very serious and political, while Tatum is heroic and protective. They both respect each other and come to know each other as their opposite equal. Without each other they have no real influence or direction over this film, but together, they are inseparable, and you don’t want them to become separated at all, because without them, this film is virtually worth nothing.
A film like this would be a bit out-of-place if it wasn’t for some large scale Special Effects. I do think this film struggles with back drops and lighting. The lighting looks especially bad. Some cases it can be too dark, and other a bit too overcast. It’s just a bit annoying as there is hardly ever a clear picture. When you combine this with the similar back drops, it sets the film in a world that does not look real. Some of the film’s special effects similarly struggle. It’s not as good as the effects in Independence Day 17 years previously, and as this film touts it’s from the same director, it’s a bit of a let-down. That is until about half-way through, and then it shines. From the explosion in the Capitol Building, to the destruction of Air Force One and the flight of helicopters through the streets of Washington, while it may not be a giant alien spaceship casting a city sized shadow, scenes such as these create incredible spectacles that forever stand out as moments which are not only a wonder to behold, but also become moments that help improve the film as they continue.
As for the soundtrack (composed by Harald Kloser); I don’t actually remember much of one. I really don’t. I watched this film from start to finish and I can remember hearing music, but I just cannot remember what the soundtrack presented or what it sounded like. All I can really remember is the credits music (Street Fighting Man by The Rolling Stones) which includes that track that was in V For Vendetta. It’s a real shame as Emmerich’s films have gone great distances to create as big as a soundtrack as the special effects and big disasters, but maybe because in contrast this film is much smaller, maybe they didn’t go as far with the soundtrack. I am not saying there isn’t a soundtrack or anything like that, it’s just I cannot remember hearing much of one. Maybe I was just too glued to hear one.
Altogether, I really did like this movie. It combines all the elements of a good Roland Emmerich film: Action, Big moments, Special Effects, interesting characters, and an interesting story. The film is let down a bit by how it takes a while to get going, it’s lighting, some effects and a missing soundtrack, but one thing this film does is Improve as it goes along. It starts off boring, but by the end it ends up as one of Emmerich’s best films to date. Yes it’s smaller than something like The Day After Tomorrow. Yes there is less happening than Independence Day. But what this film does present is enough of Emmerich’s movie trademarks to create an amazing spectacle that will entertain all movie goers of this genre plus plenty of little extras that will entertain everyone else too. It’s a proper fun and exciting action movie, one that belongs in the Action movie Hall of Fame no doubt (if there is one?).
GENEPOOL (I probably should have mentioned that neither Hermione Granger nor Emma Watson appear in this Movie, sorry).