I like Roland Emmerich. I like his style and I find that he’s a more than competent director. However, I cannot explain why Stargate (1994), Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and 10,000 B.C. (2008) exist aside from solely being money makers. They’re not terribly shot films. They’re simply grossly and incompetently idiotic films and three of them had managed to put me to sleep within their first 30 minutes.
Once in awhile he manages to deliver something really good. I like Universal Soldier (1992), a silly but well crafted and intriguing action film; I like The Patriot (2000), a historically set film that’s terrifically shot and terrifically acted; and I love Anonymous (2011), a beautifully shot and terrifically acted film that pretends that William Shakespeare was a fraud and a proxy to someone else who, due to his high position in society wasn’t allowed to take credit for the work.
Now comes White House Down, a silly film boasting a concept that’s virtually impossible and in certain aspects even inconceivable, but a terrific homage to and satire of John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988). Replace L.A. with Washington D.C., replace the Nakatomi Plaza with the White House, replace a New York cop with a bodyguard who’s trying to land a job in the Secret Service, and replace the protagonist who tries to find his wife with a father who’s trying to find his daughter. Now add some well written wit, terrific bouts of humor and well shot action sequences. And what do you have? A good movie, which is all that we could ask for.
Channing Tatum plays John Cale (John McClane anyone?), the father/action hero in the above equation; Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight) plays his interviewee; James Woods (Casino, Once Upon a Time in America) and Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) play the main bad guys; Joey King (Oz the Great and Powerful) plays as John's daughter; and Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained) plays the President of the United States of America, who suffers from an Obama complex throughout the first half of the film.
There’s no reason to get into plot details because the film layers them on bit by bit, taking its time initially (there’s a good 30 minutes before any of the action begins), and slowly unravels what the bad guys’ plans are all about. Much like in Die Hard, the plot is second and maybe even third to the action and the chemistry between the actors.
White House Down plays like an action/buddy cop/comedy hybrid and manages to juggle all three storytelling mechanics very well and all at once. Jokes are cracked freely, in a witty and not an eye rolling manner; Emmerich’s own Independence Day is even at the butt end of a witty joke. But the film’s most skillful display is its competent screenplay. Items, names, and situations are mentioned throughout and are come back to full circle. E.g. Tatum claims that he’s out of ammo and Foxx suggests that he pick up a knife since they’re in the kitchen. Tatum cracks a joke about not needing to make sandwiches at the moment. Towards the end of the film, Tatum is entirely out of ammunition and guns and so he waltzes around the White House with a large kitchen knife in one of his hands. In the context of the screenwriter’s willing to be silly and equally entertaining and in collaboration with “I mentioned it here and I’ll come back to it later” it makes sense completely. This happens frequently throughout the film, in a competent manner, and clichés are also very welcome. This film thrives on clichés but it plays alongside them and doesn't let them be the center of attention. The clichés are there but it's never about the clichés.
The higher up bad guys are mostly competent and think clearly throughout most of the film and the film is legitimately exciting and hilarious throughout. I chuckled throughout its entirety and even burst out laughing on several occasions; always with the film and not at it.
White House Down is a good film. It’s not too short as to entreat superfluous and therefore, boring bouts of violent action sequences; it’s almost entirely bloodless so that entire families can watch it; the bad guys don’t preach on for too long and in turn wallow in their own clichéd existence; the film is exceptionally, thoroughly well shot and lit; the special effects (at least half of which are practical special effects) are fantastic; and Tatum and Foxx have terrific chemistry.
This film isn’t rocket science and can easily be treated as sci-fi or high fiction. But it thoroughly holds your attention; it never insults the audience; it's pretty to look at, because Emmerich can shoot the heck out of a film; and it's the biggest surprise that I’ve had so far this year.
Olympus Has Fallen is an awful film in every aspect. Ignore that it even exists, go see White House Down, and go see it in the theatres. It’ll be far more exciting than when viewing it at home and Emmerich’s involvement with the film is worth the price of admission alone.