I normally do not like to judge a movie based on the merits of similar movies, but it seems to be the most appropriate way to review White House Down.
Released within months of Olympus Has Fallen (a movie with the same basic conceit), Down (out Nov. 5 on home video) is unbelievably bad. However, beyond being a very bad movie, when you compare it to the far superior Fallen you realize the two films represent a larger struggle occurring in the criss-crossing worlds of art and politics.
Let’s start with character. White House Down does not contain any. In fact, there is not a single recognizable person with recognizable emotions anywhere to be seen. The script, by James Vanderbilt, is built in the worst way possible. Some characters merely exist for the purpose of relaying exposition and nearly everyone in this cast is given their fair share of laughable and cringe worthy one liners. Channing Tatum also talks to a squirrel …
While Fallen had characters with real dilemmas that made decisions based off of their morals and personalities, Down has stereotypes and cardboard cutouts of people that could never exist. The bad guys in the movie are of course right wing crazy types. The movie makes sure to relay that they are all proven racists and are motivated by mental illness and misguided patriotism. They aren’t real and don’t feel real. These characters are merely fantasized versions of conservative Americans that attend Tea Party rallies and belong to the NRA and choose to disagree with President Obama.
Speaking of Obama, Jamie Foxx portrays the least believable character in this mess of a film. He and producers have all but admitted that the president in this movie is modeled after President Obama. But, how could he be? In the film, the president is ordering the removal of all troops from the Middle East. In reality, that’s a position Obama is far from taking and more crazy right wingers that attend Tea Parties support.
In Fallen, the president was a man that lost his wife and made mistakes but has a moral center that guides him through the film and his run ins with terrorists. All characters in Fallen were brought across as human beings first and foremost because that is the only way for a story to work and for art to breathe. Down has no interest in art or story. It just wants to show us its crazy cardboard cutouts running around on screen doing things we can only roll our eyes at.
The president in Down is a hero throughout with zero flaws that fights the good fight and is the only incorruptible human being Washington has to offer.
The only actor that comes close to bringing a dose of reality to this movie is James Woods. He brings some real humanity to his character, but how he got mixed up his this far left looney mess is anyone’s guess.
Tatum, who plays the man in the right place to save the president, has trouble as an action hero. While Gerard Butler was scarred on the inside and outside in Fallen and brought across the brutality and cynicism of his character, Tatum is too self aware to come across as an ex-military man with authority issues. He’s laughable as a character like this.
Fallen showed the same mass destruction that Down shows, but there was a huge difference and this gives us a sense of Roland Emmerich as a director. In Fallen, director Antoine Fuqua brought across the attack on the White House in a gritty and tight way. We could almost feel the camera cringe at what was happening.
Down seems to revel in watching the White House go down and in the horrible violence taking place on screen. This is because Fuqua was making a movie about human beings while Emmerich is just trying to blow stuff up while throwing some of his politics at us at the same time.
Now that we’re onto politics, let’s talk about politics and art. It’s impossible to take politics out of art because both have a center that is comprised of opinion, philosophy and basic human nature. However, a story should never be an excuse for politics. You will never be able to deprive a story of a viewpoint, but to make that viewpoint the driving force defeats the purpose of creating art in the first place. You go from telling stories that examine humanity to simply having an agenda and inviting people to see it.
In this sense, Fallen was art and Down is not. I didn’t agree with all the politics of the former film. Some of them edged on being neoconservative, but politics were never the point. It was about how the people handled their situation and less about pushing a political point.
Down is all politics from its fantasized liberal president and Oval Office to its fantasized view of every conservative person that exists in the world. It throws reality to the wind and becomes a movie only Rachel Maddow could enjoy.
White House Down is supposed to be a tight, Die Hard like thriller where a reluctant hero saves America from its worst fear. However, it ends up being a large politically driven story that exists for the sole purpose of showing mass destruction and pushing dumb stereotypes in order to fuel a larger political point about liberals and conservatives.
While Fallen was criticized for its flag-waving sentimentality and patriotism, it earned it after a brutal and engaging two hours. Down should be criticized for having a gushy, mushy and child-like patriotism for a world that only exists in the head of people like Michael Moore. After a hard to get through two hours, Down did not earn the same right of sentimentality that Fallen did. You choose.