White House Down

White House Down postera review by Nalini Haynes

President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) nobly works towards peace in the Middle East by fighting the real warmongers, the companies making $millions selling weapons.

Cameos introduce the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins), Vice President Hammond (Michael Murphy), Donnie – don’t mess with his White House –  the White House Guide (Nicolas Wright), Agent Walker (James Woods) head of the secret service and highly-placed secret service agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Officer John McClane – oops, sorry – John Cale (Channing Tatum) goes to the White House for a job interview, taking his daughter Emily (Joey King) with him (as you do). Emily nags John to take the White House tour; they are separated just before the White House is attacked.

Queue Die Hard-style plot where Cale tries to protect the president and rescue his daughter admidst lots of ‘SPLODEY ACTION, guns, machine guns, ground-to-air missiles, helicopters, fighter jets, explosions… Unlike McClane, Cale isn’t provocative for the sake of it (‘Now I have a machine gun, ho, ho, ho’) yet humour abounds in sharp dialogue scattered throughout.

In my opinion White House Down trumps Die Hard with its intelligent plot, thoughtfully constructed characters and more politically correct cast. While I so desperately want to discuss late plot twists I WILL RESTRAIN MYSELF. White House Down is very different to Elysium: similar politically-focused discussions will abound. In my opinion the very fact that these conversations take place is a mark of success of the movies; they are WATER COOLER MOVIES.

White House Down doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (a simple gender bias test) in its basic form yet I was impressed with the enlightened casting and characters. Agent Finnerty has chosen to make serving the Presidential Office her life. Finnerty is a kick-ass agent: intelligent, assertive and dedicated. Emily Cale is not just a damsel in distress waiting for daddy to rescue her; she’s a vlogger who posts video of the attack on YouTube while hiding. Realistically terrified, Emily remains politically aware and true to herself. These two female characters lift White House Down above the run-of-the-mill Hollywood movies.

Then you have the menz. The president is blacker than Obama and a statesman of whom America could be proud. There’s an African-American general whose role is mixed yet his actions are justified.

The thugs who attack the White House are a bit of a cliché, many of whom wear crude tattoos and aren’t clean shaven. There’s one guy who wore stubble, was clean-shaven, had stubble… This was either a continuity error or I’m mistaken, either is possible. One or two of the guys who attacked the White House looked like they might be Middle-Eastern; I was struggling to stereotype these dudes, expecting a Hollywood cliché.

But PLOT.

Awesome.

In the interests of full disclosure, IMAX gave me a media pass to review White House Down but they aren’t paying me for this review.

I <3 IMAX BIG SCREEN. I am SO SPOILT.

Imagine helicopters flying across or into the screen at approximately full size.

Imagine fighter jets screaming across the screen at nearly full size.

Imagine explosions taking up the full 7 storeys of the cinema screen.

I enjoy a ‘splodey movie as much as the next person, especially when it’s intelligent with humour scattered throughout to relieve the tension. Enormous explosions are a bonus.

On the negative side I suspect a small plot thread ended up on the cutting room floor because one actor made an appearance in one scene, never to be referred to again. (I can’t say more than that without giving away too much.) Plot holes abound in traditional action-‘splodey-movie style. Some examples are: someone who should have been casually shot wasn’t; people fall a storey or two onto broken glass then get up to fight another scene. And fall some more. And get up again.

I discovered a much higher tolerance for these kinds of plot holes than in abuse of science fiction tropes. Even so, I find the leavening of violent action with humour keeps me engaged: The Expendables’s peanut gallery assembled in my lounge room provided the necessary humour or I would have walked out.

White House Down is the Die Hard of this time, even better than the original. There are weapons, helicopters, fighter jets, lots of shooting and explosions. Humour leavens the violent action. Characters are engaging; even a key villain was a sympathetic character to a point. The intelligent plot provides water cooler conversation. I highly recommend White House Down for fans of ‘splodey movies with humour and added depth. Four out of five stars.