White House Down (d. Roland Emmerich USA 2013)

White House Down (d. Roland Emmerich USA 2013)

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White House Down is a film by Roland Emmerich, famous for Indpendence Day (d. Emmerich USA 1996), Godzilla (d. Emmerich USA/Japan 1998),  A Day After Tomorrow (d. Emmerich USA 2004) and 2012 (d. Emmerich USA 2009). I hope I haven’t spoilt too much. For unfortunately, the title describes the spectacle and Roland Emmerich is known for his widespread destruction. Knowing simply the Director and the title in this instance, seems to be able to give you the entire film. We know what it will be. But will it be entertaining? Will it be successful? Will you like it?


It’s fairly obviously an action film. So let me introduce you to a debate within the action genre. With the Action Genre, it is possible for some occurrences that are either excessive or just impossible. However, is this just stylistic or is it a flaw? If we to take White House Down as an example, there are instances when the film is far from realistic or even heroic (I mean that what occurs goes from fiction/fantasy to ‘Oh come on! Really!?’). To name some pitfalls:

  • Damage received by characters are no longer felt after the initial wound.
  • Time constraints are meaningless.
  • Everything can blow up.
  • Bullets can’t hit protagonists, seriously.
  • Armour, walls, glass windows, etc. mean nothing to the protagonist but everything to the enemy.
  • Anyone is a medic – no matter what limited training they could receive.

I am sure that I have missed a few. But with any genre it is important to distinguish one from the other, as the criticisms of one may not affect the other. Are these important? If one argues they are attributes of the genre then the fantasy shouldn’t be criticised. If they are completely intentional and any form of (even minor) realism is completely out the window then, it may well be enjoyable. Suspend your disbelief. Otherwise, they are major flaws.


If we pay particular attention to the narrative thread and the characters, we may well notice an amount of unoriginality. There are some obvious copies of moments, plot devices and characters – even to their costume. A defence would be that this is intended as a homage to other action films. The Expendables (d. Sylvester Stallone USA 2010) used in-jokes and nods to appeal to fans of the genre but there is certainly an amount of originality to its concept. I, personally, could not see this film as a homage. But the film as a homage may be the argument. (Warning: Spoiler) To be honest, I felt this a complete rip off of Die Hard  – (d. John McTiernan USA 1988) they are essentially the same down to characters and plot devices. If we imagine Nakatomi Plaza is now the White House, Emily (Joey King) is Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia), Walker (James Woods) is Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), the pissed-off veteran is the pissed off veteran, down to the tank top the protagonist is MacLane (Bruce Willis), his black buddy is the black buddy (also inside as the president to mix things up slightly). The terrorists blow things up, need a computer geek, use explosives to deal with tanks (armoured car in Die Hard) and helicopters. Above all, there are hostages in a building where one outsider with training is inside making things difficult by hiding in air vents and lifts.


It is also worth noting that for a film that is about special effects and high amounts of destruction. The effects have some obvious flaws that noticeably destroy the action. At times the effects work quite well but only for the bits that are the focus of attention. If we’re not meant to be looking at it we definitely wont notice, right? Thank you for the credit.


To conclude, this film can at times be entertaining. However, it can also be down right insulting. This film should be appreciated as a cheesy, silly ‘things go boom’ film. But it’s hard to appreciate it on that level as it is far from original. If anything it is a film that tries to keep the status quo. We keep spending money on explosions we can keep film at a standstill, right?


Further Reading



Official Site

Channing Tatum’s Official Site

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Fansite

Interview with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx

Interview with Cast and Director

You’ve Got James Woods

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