White House Down – Film Review

It’s not often that I write film reviews, but then, it’s not often that I go to see a film and come out feeling that many of the reviews I read for it were very unfair.

Yesterday evening, I went to see White House Down with my dad. We wanted to see a film together before I go off to university at the weekend, and, after deciding against Rush and being unable to make the screenings of Elysium, we settled on White House Down, pretty much because it was the only film left on Cineworld’s list that wasn’t a chick flick. We watched a couple of trailers, decided that it could be a laugh, and booked the tickets. I also read some of the user reviews on IMDb. Despite being given an average rating of 6.4/10, it was almost universally slated in the reviews. Why? Because, according to many of them, it was a left wing movie which showed complete disrespect to the good men and women who serve America on the field of war. Well, Dad and I went to see it anyway, and here’s my take on the movie.

First of all, White House Down is a hugely entertaining action thriller. It’s a shoot-em-up, but it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, and there are plenty of funny moments amongst the rattle of machine guns and thunderous explosions. Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx play the lead roles; the former is an ex-military man, John Cale, who is trying to get a job in the Secret Service (and ends up trying to protect the president from armed terrorists), and the latter is the US president, James Sawyer. They seem to work well together, the two of them being the source of most of the movie’s jokes. As well as this, there are helicopters, fighter jets, tanks and a car chase round the grounds of the White House…the film has everything it needs to be an entertaining, enjoyable action film. If this is what you want to see (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) then you won’t be disappointed.

Now for the political side, the real reason that I wanted to write this review. First and foremost, this is not a left wing film, certainly not in the sense that something like the Hunger Games is left wing. However, there are elements of criticism towards the worst, most corrupt depths of capitalism. Much of the film’s plot revolves around President Sawyer’s decision to pull all American troops out of the Middle East and the backlash to the companies that support the military that would come about as a consequence. I’m wary of giving too much away, but it is no secret in the film that they are protesting against the most corrupt fat-cats at the top of big corporations who are making a profit out of war and suffering. Sure, there are elements of left wing theory in this, but the film never goes so far as to say that capitalism is evil, only that corruption within the biggest countries is a problem. I don’t think anyone could seriously disagree with that!

The other issue raised in the reviews was the demonization of good soldiers. This is completely unfair. Yes, the bad guys in the movie are all ex-servicemen, but they are not your average soldier. These guys are explicitly stated as being unhinged extremists, white supremacists and far right nutters. Furthermore, they are clearly in the minority, as there are many current US soldiers shown in and around the White House who are clearly doing their best to protect the president and to keep their country safe. I think one of the ‘problems’ with this film is that it hits too close to home for some people. The premise is that the greatest threat to the United States is from within, from extremists doing what they believe is best for America. I think that, maybe, people prefer to see the threat as coming from outside, from terrorists halfway around the globe, never believing that people in their own country could become so radicalised.

In fact, I think the statement made in this film is entirely necessary. America – and, by extension, the Western world – is not perfect. We can’t blame all our troubles on the Middle East, and we can’t allow ourselves to get into a hostile ‘us-and-them’ mentality. Our society, our great civilisation, is flawed. People aren’t perfect. There is evil around the corner, from the underground gangs to the boardrooms of some of the biggest companies.

But the film is not negative. One of the key messages throughout the film is that individual people can make a difference. President Sawyer, a black man from a rough background, got into politics so that he could change things for the better, despite all the prejudice he had to endure. John Cale, a man who can’t hold down a job, who has trouble with authority, finds it in himself to serve his country above and beyond what is expected. His eleven year old daughter, the heroine of the film, demonstrates that you shouldn’t let youth get in the way of doing great things. Yes, this film can be seen as a protest against the evil in our society, but it also celebrates the ability that all of us have to do something worthwhile, no matter what our circumstances.

So if you’re looking for a fun action film to pass the time one evening, you certainly won’t be disappointed. Sure, it’s probably not going to win any Oscars, but that doesn’t stop it being fun. And, if you’re interested in politics and deeper meaning, this film has that in abundance. The fact is, this film gets the balance between entertainment and a serious message right. You can enjoy it as simple entertainment, or as something more. It’s a thoroughly good watch.

My rating: 7/10

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