White House Down film review

Directed By: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx

2013 seemed to be the year of films about the White House. There was Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and then on the complete other end of the spectrum two films about blowing up the White House – Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. After enjoying Olympus Has Fallen I was interested to see how White House Down compared.

White House Down stars Jamie Foxx as President Sawyer and Channing Tatum as John Cale who entered the White House for an innocent job interview and ended up being the only person in the whole of Washington DC who could save the president from terrorists. Cale also has the added worry of his daughter, big White House fan Emily, being trapped inside with the terrorists.

At the end of the film, I was left feeling like White House Down didn’t really know what it was supposed to be. It didn’t have the silliness and comedy one-liners of Olympus Has Fallen, but this was not compensated for with better effects or a more involved plot. You have to go one way or the other with action films. If you aren’t going to make a ‘silly’ action film like Olympus Has Fallen with comedy one-liners and an appropriate ‘I don’t follow the rules’ lead like Gerard Butler, then you need to go more down the epic film route, like some of Roland Emmerich’s other films – The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, or have a slightly more complicated plot (whilst still being an action film) – something like Jack Reacher or Elysium. I could certainly see similar traits between White House Down and Emmerich’s back catalogue, however White House Down won’t become a classic like Independence Day or The Patriot.

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Part of the failure was due to the characters – John Cale was not a convincing character as the saviour of the president, John Cale’s daughter Emily was not a convincing character to be the saviour of the White House by waving a flag, and President Sawyer was a bit of a wet lettuce and not like the ‘leader of the Free World’. The most interesting thing he did was tell one of the terrorists to get their hands off his Nike Jordans. Even the terrorists were odd characters. The main mob were just standard yobs doing it for the money, and the leader, Walker, just didn’t convince me as his reason (his son was killed during a black ops mission), whilst very sad was not enough for a seemingly sane man to decide to blow up the White House, even if he is terminally ill. It seemed a little lazy. There wasn’t any character that I warmed to, even the attempt at a ‘comedy’ character, Donny the tour guide. Not funny.

I did quite like the character of Emily Cale as she seemed to be the only one to have any spark and at least had a few ideas. However to make her the one to call off the air strike and save the day just went too far.

The whole thing would have been saved if John Cale had a bit of personality, or if the President had a bit of a presence. I do unfortunately think this was partly the fault of Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum. I do like Foxx in some films, but he’s more of the strong, silent type – for example his role in Django Unchained suited him well. He wasn’t suited to the role of a president who should be powerful and charismatic. Tatum is seemingly trying to move out of rom-coms and have his own equivalent of the McConaissance, but he’s not having as much success just yet.

The storyline didn’t amount to much, and didn’t really have many twists and turns. Cale and the President just seemed to bumble around from one room to the other, not really engaging in any interesting combat, not really serving any purpose. To be honest, I can’t even remember what happened in some of it as I think I fell asleep! I compare this to the scenes in Olympus Has Fallen where Gerard Butler’s character went from room to room, however he had to do things in each room like disable cameras, save the president’s son etc. It seemed to have more structure. Also in Olympus Has Fallen, Butler was trying to find the president which worked better as he wasn’t just trailing around with him like a spare part like President Sawyer was. The President in Olympus Has Fallen had his own story going on with the terrorists trying to get the codes out of him and his colleagues. I’m not saying White House Down should have done the same, but something else for the president to do would have helped. There was a short confrontation scene with the terrorists near the end, which was ok, but too little too late.

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Emmerich films are known for their epic scenes and special effects such as the great snow scenes in The Day After Tomorrow or the huge apocalyptic floods in 2012. Apart from the bit where the top of the White House blew up there were not any memorable stunts, which was a shame as I thought Emmerich would do something really creative with the White House.

A few things that were slightly positive were the setup – quite enjoyed a bit of back story and John going to his job interview, and Emily asking the president questions for her video blog, and also the slight twist at the end where a second perpetrator was unmasked. Perhaps if there had not been Olympus Has Fallen already for me to constantly compare it to, it may also have seemed a bit more fresh and exciting, which is unfortunate timing for Emmerich.
So overall, with weak characters, weak performances, a story without twists and turns, boring baddies and no epic scenes or funny comedy to distract me, I’m afraid White House Down was not as good as Olympus Has Fallen and I would advise that if you want to see a good Roland Emmerich film then check out one of his others.

SCORE: 5

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