White House Down

White House Down is an Emmerich movie through and through, but amidst all the gunfire and explosions and stuff, this flick hits all the emotional setups and payoffs we want it to. Sure, there are some somewhat ‘interesting’ political ideas included in the movie, but they’re easily overlooked.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released June 28, 2013

Written by James Vanderbilt

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Joey King, Rachelle Lefevre, Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Lance Reddick, Jason Clarke, Jimmi Simpson, James Woods, and Richard Jenkins

Rated: PG-13

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Cale (Tatum) is a Capitol policeman who is divorced with a sassy early teen daughter named Emily (King). Cale has a bit of a rough history and is trying to get onto the Secret Service, partly because Emily is obsessed with the White House and the current president, Sawyer (Foxx). Of importance is the fact that Emily has a vlog (video blog) and she gets lucky by getting the president on a video during a tour of the White House.

The film starts with scenes that introduce the major players in the story we’re going to watch. Cale is the primary character, followed by Finnerty (Gyllenhaal), who is the White House chief of staff. She ends up having to lead out on the efforts by external forces to retake the White House after it falls. There is also Walker (Woods), the Secret Service White House detail boss who might just have a plan to do terrible things. Stenz (Clarke) is definitely a bad guy, and he’s a smart, determined guy.

We also have a few smaller characters, notably Donnie the tour guide (Wright), General Caulfield (Reddick), who has to face the implications of a compromised president, and the Speaker of the House, Raphelson (Jenkins), who could use more screen time.

The story unfolds as Cale takes his daughter with him to the White House while he is interviewed for a spot on the Secret Service. Thereafter, as we watch scenes of the bad guys, including a hacker (Simpson) executing what appears to be a complex plan to infiltrate the White House, Cale and Emily end up on a tour of the White House.

Bad timing, of course, as the baddies start shooting up the place and killing people, blowing things to bits in the doing. And just before it begins, Cale and Emily are separated.

Now Cale needs to find Emily before something awful happens. He also ends up having to protect the president. In the meantime, Finnerty has to try to establish and maintain a connection with the president in the occupied White House and keep the country from spiraling out of control, while also tracking down exactly what the bad guys’ agenda really is.


White House Down is a preposterous, totally ridiculous idea for a film. But what’s astonishing is that it’s all kinds of fun, its characters are totally emotionally accessible, the conflicts have great emotional impact, and every setup has a fun, satisfying payoff.

The images, explosions, quantity of bullets flying, and dialogue are all Emmerich. The dialogue is not fully natural or organic or authentic, but it’s correctly tuned to the moments and scenes and interactions. The pacing is steady, speedy, and very well calibrated to heighten the tension and stakes and allow some breathing space so audiences don’t get burned out.

Action fans, cheesy satisfying flick fans, and pretty good acting fans are going to love White House Down. While it might seem like a dumb actioner on its face, it’s actually very intelligently done, with solid twists and interesting villains making things particularly interesting and engaging.

White House Down is all kinds of surprising fun. The characters who deserve a messy end get it and the characters we care about get to redeem themselves and work through solid heroic moments.

Content warnings: Some salty language and quite a lot of explosive violence, most of it fairly bloodless.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4

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About jared

Jared Garrett works as a writer, the manager of a program development department in the corporate world, and an instructional designer. He is a family man with an adorable, fun, and way-too-smart wife, six silly kids, a new house with an overgrown back yard, seven fish, and a bunch of chickens. He has written fiction, user manuals, SEO copy, radio scripts and textbooks and has won first place in the Mayhew writing contest at BYU and received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. He lives at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and is currently seeking representation for his myriad completed novels.
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