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Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - White House Down

Directed by: Roland Emmerich

Produced by: Roland Emmerich
Bradley J. Fischer
Harald Kloser
James Vanderbilt
Larry Franco
Laeta Kalogridis

Screenplay by: James Vanderbilit

Starring: Channing Tatum
Jamie Foxx
Joey King
James Woods
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Jason Clarke
Richard Jenkins

Music by: Harald Kloser
Thomas Wander

Cinematography by: Anna Foerster

Editing by: Adam Wolfe

Studio(s): Centropolis Entertainment
Mythology Entertainment

Distributed by: Colombia Pictures

Release date(s): June 28, 2013 (United States)
September 13, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 131 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $150 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $185, 003, 784

It's not that I'm continuing down the line of the perennial stop-start routine of busting out a few reviews every now and then, it's just that it's pretty hard to follow something like my review for Grown Ups 2. That stuff about rolling around naked in a landfill was good, even by my usual, unconstructed rambling standards. Anywho, along with this, I have guaranteed reviews in the pipeline for Runner Runner, Elysium (I've finally seen it!) and either this month or next (depending how I feel) Stoker, Sanitarium and The Lords Of Salem. I might save those three for next month, being horror movies and Halloween 'n all. Maybe I'll put out a guide to Alternative Halloween Movies... and then I'll remember I did that last year so I'll have to have some miserable excuse to publish a new list, or else I'll just have to reprint the same one. So, for all the latest in movie-watching madness, keep your eyes posted!

So, here we have White House Down, a film which got some brilliant accidentally-on-purpose publicity on account of the two stars, Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, doing the Jimmy Kimmel sketch, (I Wanna) Channing All Over Your Tatum. Genius marketing or not, I would have tried to see it anyway, not just because I like the stars (Tatum won Best Lead Actor from myself last year for Magic Mike), but also because the director, Roland Emmerich, has always been somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Right up until 2000's The Patriot, Emmerich made some highly entertaining blockbuster films which delivered more than enough bang for their buck, the best of these being the Jean-Claude Van Damme/Dolph Lundgren action flick Universal Solider. However, since The Day After Tomorrow (a singularly awful movie that strangely spotlights of all places in my home country Banbridge), he's made a spat of highly ambitious yet outright dull pictures that in terms of quality fail to match up to the scope of the central concept. Here, Emmerich is back in rather more familiar action territory, Tatum playing John Cale, a Capitol Police officer who takes his daughter Emily (Joey King) to the White House for a tour while he has a job interview for the Secret Service. The interview is conducted by former college acquaintance Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who believes him unfit for the job. His skills are put to the test when after Jamie Foxx's President Sawyer announces a controversial peace treaty between allied countries to remove military forces from the Middle East, the White House is taken over by a group of mercenaries with intent to extort from the Federal Reserve, to access NORAD, and to assassinate the President. Got it?

To start with what's good here, the fact is that this is a return to form for Emmerich. I mean, don't get me wrong, some of his action epics such as The Patriot are good movies, but he's been doing that same schtick for well over a decade, and it's nice to see a return to outright, balls-to-the-wall nonsense. It's a simple premise, it's not particularly inventive or well-written (more of which later), but the fact is is that it works! Emmerich is one of the few filmmakers working in Hollywood that can take this sort of material and turn it into genuinely entertaining material, and only Emmerich could manage to convince us in the legitimacy (or rather, absurdity) of a car chase on the White House lawn. I've long been a Roland Emmerich apologist and it's no secret that one of my genre weaknesses as a reviewer is those 1980s-early 1990s action films that don't make a whole lot of sense but feature fights, chases and things that blow up, and both come well together here. I know it's not a work of art by any means, but I'd be a liar if I said I didn't have a whale of a time with this movie. Also helping the movie is the fact overall it is well-cast. Even if they are in smaller, less well-fleshed out roles, Richard Jenkins, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke (very busy, of late) are always a pleasure to see. James Woods does a great job of portraying the inner emotional conflict of Martin Walker, the head of the Presidential Detail. Also a standout is Joey King, who has emerged over the past couple of years as one of the US' most promising child actors. After a bit part in The Dark Knight Rises and a voice role in Oz The Great And Powerful, she has progressed with finesse into a major supporting part. As Emily, King gets across all of the daddy issues and the angst of young adolescence, while also proving herself not just as a competent performer, but a confident one at that. The highlight in the acting terms though is the rapport and chemistry between Tatum and Foxx. Although in many ways Tatum is the lead and Foxx the supporting act, both are equally important on the acting front in putting the movie over to audiences. As I'm sure anyone who follows this blog is aware, I'm more than convinced of Tatum's lead star quality, and that I see him in the same vein of a Brando of old, a quality which he puts on display here, making a character that could have been a dullard amusing and engaging. Foxx too, more versatile than he's ever given credit, last seen comfortably wielding guns in Django Unchained, is an entertaining screen presence as he fumbles around, making decisions about the military yet seemingly unable to handle a gun. Foxx gives the character enough complexity so that it's not a Republican-painted picture of Obama, but instead injected with irony and giving Sawyer this boyish sort-of innocence. As you'd expect from a big $150 million dollar budgeted enterprise, the film is technically proficient. While offering us nothing special, cinematographer Anna Foerster and editor Adam Wolfe do a good job in their respective departments in keeping the ball rolling with the film. Also, the film's production design, special effects and the stunt departments work in great cohesion in helping to deliver the film's success. This is a movie filled to the brim with big explosions, action scenes et al, and if you go in with that expectation in mind, you won't be disappointed. Just to flag up another critic briefly, Andrew Chan of the Film Critics Circle Of Australia wrote "I am not entirely sure, whether I should be happy or sad that someone got shot or bomb [his grammar, not mine], but such is the manner of how the film is played out." Much as I like Chan and his succinct reviewing, I have to disagree, because I had a great time watching people get blown up and shot!

However, that is not to say White House Down is perfect, or by any means a great movie, because while I admit rather enjoying it, the flaws it contains are nonetheless potent and quite visible through all the pomp and circumstance. The major problem, not too much of an issue but a flaw regardless, is James Vanderbilt's script. Vanderbilt is no slouch in the writing department (he was the scribe behind David Fincher's masterful Zodiac), but even with Tatum, Foxx and company performing this stuff, it's still a frightfully derivative work with an abundance of tropes that would have seen cliched in the late eighties. I'm not going to say what they are, not out of laziness, but because it would take the fun out of you unveiling for yourself the various plot (in)intricacies. We have Lethal Weapon buddy cop interactions, the Die Hard siege format played out, insert precocious child here yadda yadda yadda, in an intensely, militaristic 'Merica movie that then has the gall to say "there's more to life than this." It's fun, but reflexive and satirical in the vein of Robocop (the remake of which is being scribed by Vanderbilt) it ain't. The score, accredited to both Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander (birth name Wanker), is also of this same mould. It didn't strike as much as the script, but the fact is that it too is full of the classic genre composition themes. It's been a while since I've reference them (though I'm sure they've been there in spirit), but the EHO (Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra) plays their tired cliches of times past for today. Simply put!

Don't get me wrong, it's terribly derivative and, quite frankly, astonishing in how uninventive it is, but the fact of the matter is is that I enjoyed White House Down very much. It's a technically proficient picture that delivers with the explosions and action scenes, while the cast as a whole, but especially the leads Tatum and Foxx, hold the movie together and sell us on it. Also, Roland Emmerich is one of the few directors today who could direct such a crazy and absurd action movie that despite all it's faults, is still great fun. Finally, as the only person in the theatre who laughed during The Act Of Killing (still my favourite film of the year), I had no question of morality or politics and just had a whale of a time with White House Down.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sweet (just taking in life day by day)

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