WHITE HOUSE DOWN Review

by     Posted 1 year, 177 days ago

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Making a silly, fun action movie is a difficult balance.  If the film takes itself too seriously in order to make the stakes feel more immediate, then the audience can become uncomfortable (e.g. Olympus Has Fallen).  If the film is constantly winking at the audience, then they can grow tired with a movie that’s trying way too hard to be ironic (e.g. Snakes on a Plane).  Director Roland Emmerich has rarely had trouble striking the right balance.  Emmerich knows to pepper the movie with snappy, funny dialogue, have the good-hearted characters take their situation seriously, and never be afraid to go melodramatic, over the top, and do so in a way that’s unashamed rather than shameless.  White House Down is Emmerich at his best, and delivers exactly the movie we’ve come to expect from the blockbuster director.

President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) has made the bold decision to entirely pull out of the Middle East thus delivering a crippling blow to the powerful military-industrial complex.  Meanwhile, John Cale (Channing Tatum) is applying to become a Secret Service agent not only out of a sense of duty, but also to impress his estranged daughter, Emily (Joey King), who is a bigger fan of the President than she is of her dad.  After getting turned down for the job, father and daughter go on a White House tour only to have a group of bad guys storm the building, and try to take the President hostage.  Emily and Cale get separated, and while trying to find her, he manages to rescue Sawyer.  Cale must try to find his daughter and get the President to safety while a larger conspiracy swirls around them.

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The plot sounds fairly convoluted, and to an extent, it is.  There are a lot of players, like Secret Service deputy Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Cale’s boss and Speaker of the House Ralpheson (Richard Jenkins), leader of the bad guys Stenz (Jason Clarke), eccentric bad guy hacker Skip Tyler (Jimmi Simpson), and Secret Service chief, Walker (James Woods).  The script never gets bogged down in its loaded cast, and instead uses them to create a fleet-footed narrative that is constantly flipping between the various players rather than resting solely on Cale and Sawyer.  Thankfully, the strong cast never has us aching to get back to stronger players.  Even Stenz, who’s motives are nebulous and personality consists of being angry and really angry, finds some life thanks to Clarke’s intense performance.

But the film’s biggest strength is relying on the chemistry between Tatum and Foxx.  For all of the cheerful stupidity of the plot, the clever center of the picture is taking Die Hard, giving Cale and Sawyer a buddy-cop dynamic, and trapping them inside the White House.  By smashing these formulas together and then anchoring it with two charismatic performances, everything else can begin to fall in to place.  We know that no matter how serious everything seemingly becomes, we have an enjoyable pairing between two characters we care about.

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Every when the film is going for the “dramatic” moments, it’s still having fun.  At times, White House Down feels like a fake movie you’d see in a real movie.  During Cale’s interview with Finnerty, she tells him that one of his previous evaluations describes him as having “raw potential but does not aim to realize it.”  It’s a safe assumption he’ll realize it over the course of the two hour action movie that involves him saving his daughter and the President of the United States just for starters (the stakes get even bigger as the movie goes along).  For Emmerich, the tone of the “emotional” scenes has to match the scale of the action scenes.

This is the third time in Emmerich’s filmography in which he’s destroyed the White House, but demolishing it from the inside-out is a nice change of pace.  Most of the action is fairly intimate, and involves fast-paced shootouts and fist fights.  It’s only when he steps out the door that the action gets crazy, and not necessarily for the best.  There’s a big explosion at the Capitol (the equivalent of a flashing sign saying “This shit just got real” even though shit gets much more “real” as the movie progresses), but Emmerich feels like he’s showing off when he has a car chase that’s basically the President’s armored limo going in circles on the White House front lawn.  Staying practical is Emmerich’s best friend because even though he’s been able to pull off terrific visual effects in his past films, the CGI in White House Down is underwhelming.  In addition to the poorly rendered jets and helicopters, the spectators standing outside the White House front gate all look like they’re in front of a green screen as if the film ran out of money to do decent composite work.

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But these are minor quibbles in a movie that is unapologetic and can laugh along with its audience.  White House Down never feels like it’s talking down to us because it implicitly acknowledges that we’re smart enough to recognize the film’s overwhelming silliness.  This isn’t Olympus Has Fallen where the movie misguidedly tries to convince us the dumb action we’re watching could actually happen.  Barack Obama nor any other President is going to be firing a rocket launcher out of his Presidential limo any time soon.  Emmerich’s commitment to the tone even manages to successfully sidestep the pesky problem of a President who’s trying to shut down weapons manufacturers in a movie that features plenty of weapons.  White House Down happily skips along as macho action rains down in a cartoonish manner that invites us to have fun rather than come up with a pretense to join the party.

Rating: B+

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  • Matt Goldberg

    I am sold out little bitch and Man of Steel is awesome! Better than this crap but I got paid for this review and was given a special lotion extracted from Horse Semen!

    • peter

      u sound mad bro if you dont like this site for reviews then what are you doing here?

      • Qwagler

        It is just a joke! BTW he is right! How can human being trash Star Trek and critisise Man Of Steel and write a good review for abominations like The Heat and this bullshit PG-13 crapfesterfield)

      • peter

        not everyone liked man of steel or star trek in. my opinion both films had spectacular effects for the lack of story each person has different opinions and if matt liked the heat or this movie let him be it doesnt affect you at all if you liked mof better well good for you you dont need the approval of a reviewer

      • Philip

        I agree with you Peter, in fact, I was very disappointed with both of the films you mentioned: Man of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness, and felt that Fast & Furious 6 trumped them both in terms of action, humor, and joy of performance. It’s a weak summer indeed.

      • Liderc

        Star Trek still has the absolute highest RT score of any film this summer. Answer me how that’s possible, if it’s “so bad.”

      • kpits84

        Because it is still a score. Which means, there are both positive AND negative reviews. Positive reviews come from individuals who related and connected to the film better, while the negative reviews come from individuals who did not share that connection. Since every human is different, there are different opinions…. and that is how not everyone votes the same way.

    • Ashtalon

      MOS=POS and should have gotten a far lower grade than B-. I
      walked out of it with about 30 minutes left. A co-worker of
      mine (separate screenings) did the same thing. It’s a terrible film. It’s a shame that some people are willing to accept its “quality.”

      • RiddleThemThis

        I also judge 150 minute films solely on the first 30 minutes. Even if the 120 minutes after the first 30 was just a black screen or static and the characters never developed and nothing was accomplished, that doesn’t matter, as long as it started out strong.

      • Batt Damon

        What you saw is actually good in comparison to the last half hour. The first two acts are basically a below average blockbuster and the third act is absolute garbage

      • Batt Damon

        What you saw is actually good in comparison to the last half hour. The first two acts are basically a below average blockbuster and the third act is absolute garbage

  • Ashtalon

    Holy crap! Two positive review from Matt Goldberg in one day? His critics must be going crazy. I don’t mind him as a critic, since he’s entitled to his opinions and can logically defend them.

    • MCP

      Yes, I agree as well. I only read the 1st and last paragraph of his reviews and have no issue with his opinions either. Plus those paragraphs usually sum up everything in between.

  • MCP

    Cool, I’m a sucker for his movies always have been since Independence Day and Stargate, so count me in on this!

  • Hari

    Wait… what? This ISN’T a C-…. shocked!

    These latter two reviews have been much more fair and reasonable. My issue with Goldberg hasn’t been his reviews so much as his arbitrary grading… he’ll shower praise on a film (or not mention any criticism) and then give it a B- or C-. It didn’t seem genuine, and came across as grandstanding for attention/anger. Look at his “This is the End” review… its glowing in its praise and then the grade is a B+.

    • Calderon

      He did the same with “House of Cards,” although he pointed out a few flaws in HOC’s pacing and tone.

  • Jason Richards

    Collider fire this prick Matt. I’m seriously thinking about going to a different site.

    • Kryptonian Knight

      Collider is a great sight for movie news not movie reviews. If you want that go to Screenrant, IGN or Joblo. They will never fire Matt. They love the reactions to his post too much. I usually never read Matt’s reviews but I love reading the comments cause they are fun.

    • kpits84

      Because he reviewed a movie in a way you didn’t agree with? That makes complete sense. 100%. Tell me when you find a site that caters fully to all of your unique personal tastes, all of the time.

  • NoPEÑA

    Matt,you are a JOKE has a movie critic. Period. Im done with this site and your stupid,non-sense reviews…

    • Dooby

      Bye then!

    • kpits84

      So long! I hope the next site you find welcomes people who become rabid when excellent movie information is presented to them for free.

    • Zachrifice

      Saying you’ll never check out the site again is a bit drastic, however Goldberg is truly a joke as a critic with his head up his ass. Lets not stray from the point that’s trying to be made.

      Giving this a higher rating than Man of Steel is a prime example.

    • Strong Enough

      and yet you comment on the next review you little prick

  • Dooby

    WTF with all the Hate for Goldberg? Jeez, if you don’t like it go back to the little kids on ain’t it cool, and name-call to your hearts content. I don’t like all his reviews, but it’s his site, and if you don’t like it, get off your ass and start your own. Everyone has an opinion, and should be entitled to express it without a bunch of whiny-ass little bitches with nothing relevant to say stamping their feet and whining like spolit 2 years-old. God you guys make me sick.

  • Frank

    I am the most positive person I know when it comes to movies; really easy to please. I always see the best in a feature.

    ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ set out a kitsch feel to it, even if it was unintentional, it delivered at least that “WOAH!” factor. This movie got nothing on it. This felt like it was made out to be a B-movie, then got backed up with more $, so they decided to pile up horrible CGI footage, which all can be seen in the well-put trailer that shows a complete different vibe than what they movie offered. the editing had me anticipating a talking Air Bud with a red cape to the president’s rescue. seriously, if I was a part of the production, I would’ve gone Joaquin-Phoenix-shit for a year. It was the first movie I walk out of.

    Yes, I might be negative and it might not be right but that B+ had it coming. Yeah, not even going to look at the ‘reviews’ here again.

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