White House Down Review
Given it’s arrived in UK cinemas around five months after Olympus Has Fallen, it’d be easy to dismiss White House Down as a speedy rip-off without knowing the full story. As happens in Hollywood though, both projects were in development around the same time a la Armageddon and Deep Impact, we’ve just had to wait three months for WHD following its US release. The two would make a fascinating double bill, White House Down the glossy, family-friendly alternative to Olympus Has Fallen’s down-and-dirty approach. Perhaps surprisingly, Olympus – a film that featured a slow-mo scene of an American flag falling to the ground – might prove the more grounded of the two.
For the first part of White House Down though, it’s almost as though we’ve found Roland Emmerich in sedate form, Channing Tatum’s Capitol policeman Cale jokingly threatening a squirrel with a gun aside. Compared to the gleefully gore-fuelled carnage of Olympus’ White House siege, WHD’s President in Peril scenario is set up from within as Walker (James Woods), the head of the Secret Service, instigates his convoluted plan to make President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) pay for his son’s death with the help of mercenaries led by Stenz (Jason Clarke). But then Emmerich sets up a car chase involving the President’s Ground Force One armoured vehicle and we’re firmly in the knowingly dumb, and hugely entertaining, territory that we’ve come to know and love Emmerich for.
Make no mistake about it, White House Down fully requires you to go along with it, giving a sense of its tone early on when an over-zealous White House guide Donnie (Nicolas Wright) – who, in true Emmerich fashion, has a big part to play in the finale, delivering the film’s best catchphrase in the process – references Independence Day. It helps that the leads are all dependable, even when the ridiculousness hits the fan. Tatum might be a bit too clean-cut for his role but deftly handles the action, while Foxx is extremely likable as a President who gets in on the action, one noticeable difference from Olympus. Perhaps best of all though is Joey King, on the rise from playing parts in the likes of The Dark Knight Rises, Oz and The Conjuring, as Cale’s daughter Emily, avoiding the blockbuster trap of annoying child syndrome.
As to be expected with an Emmerich outing, technical credits are strong across the board even with Harald Kloser & Thomas Wander’s score falling into clichéd, soaring territory at times. Given the explosion-heavy mid-section, all captured in widescreen glory by Anna Foerster, White House Down reverts to its more subdued setup for its climax, albeit with added grenades. And, in true Emmerich fashion, it delivers a couple of moments that simply have to be seen to be believed as to explain them in plain terms here would almost seem too ludicrous. Yet that’s part of the fun and if you’re in the mood, White House Down more than delivers the goods. Welcome back Roland. We’ve missed you.