Review: White House Down

Poster for 2013 action film White House Down

Genre: Action
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 13th September 2013
Runtime: 131 minutes
Director: Roland Emmerich 
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Rachelle Lefevre 
Synopsis: When terrorists attack the White House, one security worker must battle to save his daughter… and the President of the United States.



Disaster porn is big business in Hollywood, led by two huge practitioners of the genre. The first is Michael Bay, currently stinking out cinemas with Pain & Gain, and the second is Independence Day’s Roland Emmerich. Hot on the heels of the thematically similar Olympus Has Fallen, the rollicking mayhem of White House Down is the latter director having an awful lot of fun. Fortunately, he brings the audience along for the ride.

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is an ambitious man working security for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins). After a disastrous Secret Service job interview with Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), he is plunged into the middle of a crisis as mercenaries led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke) take over the White House and threaten President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).

The beauty of White House Down is that it signals very early on that it doesn’t take itself seriously. This is self-aware filmmaking from Roland Emmerich, with the film playing out as essentially a parody of the kind of huge, bangy, shooty action films that Emmerich is famous for producing. With Channing Tatum running around in a vest borrowed from Bruce Willis, White House Down is the crazy, overblown actioner that A Good Day to Die Hard should’ve been.

Tatum tries his best at being John McClane, but never quite has the charisma or the tough guy credentials to make it work. That said, he makes a decent fist of things and he is great at the script’s regular comedic flourishes. Jamie Foxx fares better as an Obama-inspired President, taking particular relish in the best deployment of the F-word this year.

The true star of White House Down though is, of course, spectacle. In a cinematic era in which every blockbuster film has to blow up half of the planet, the action here is wisely confined to the labyrinthine passages of the titular landmark. Emmerich finds a seemingly endless array of toys to blow up and ensures that, despite a number of nicely done character moments, the next loud noise is never far away.

At a time when action movies are becoming disappointingly dour, it’s good to see one that harks back to early Die Hard and John Woo. Cerebral cinema is great, but sometimes it’s nice to disengage the brain, sit back and watch a lot of shit blow up.


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