October 22, 2017

Posted June 28, 2013 by D. K. Holm

White House Down is a virtual remake of Die Hard, and that’s alright with me.

Like Die Hard, Roland Emmerich’s film is about an ordinary-extraordinary man, John Cale (Channing Tatum), who is in the wrong place – the White House – at the wrong time – when a band of mercs led by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) attempt to kidnap the President (Jamie Foxx). Soon, Cale must protect his precocious daughter, save the President, wend his way through various elevator shafts and tunnels, and look good in dark smudges and a wife beater. All because he happened to be applying for a job in the Secret Service and got roped into a White House tour by his politically minded off-spring. Like John McClane in Nakatomi Plaza, Cale must do what no one else can.

As with Die Hard, there is a villain, played by TV’s Jimmy Simpson, who operates to the sounds of Beethoven, and there is a moment when Clarke makes it “personal” after Cale kills his pal Bob, just like Godunov in the earlier film. A tank attempts a futile assault, and the mercs come prepared with missiles. There is even a roof top fight scene beneath hovering attacking helicopters. And Foxx’s President is something of a heightened stand in for Sgt. Powell in the progenitor.

Unusually, White House Down is also a liberal action film. Most action films are as right-wing as their stars, finding simple solutions to difficult questions that are rendered simple. A liberal action film has to balance reputedly humanitarian principles with violence and excitement. White House Down is an Obama action film, having it both ways at once.

John McTiernan’s film from 1988 became the template for all subsequent action films, a cultural phenomenon, a star-making vehicle for Bruce Willis, and also a log line for the genre (Speed is “Die Hard on a bus”). Even as the Die Hard series deteriorated after the second edition, it remained a great action film, a tender love story about reconciliation, and a great Christmas movie. Except for the Xmas angle, White House Down is all of that and more, and Emmerich even manages to insert a car chase into what is essentially a “bubble episode.” White House Down is the perfect summer movie. If it only also had the perfect summer song, than all would be perfect and very heaven.