Tuesday 17 September 2013

White House Down

Going Down
In The White House

White House Down
2013 USA
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Playing at UK cinemas now.

They always seem to release these movies in twos, don’t they?

It seems like, as soon as somebody has a “just slightly different” concept for a movie, then suddenly two studios are putting very similar movies together at the same time. A cynic would say that this is just what happens when one movie studio wants to nick a chunk of the same box office of the other studio’s production... and I suspect the cynic would be right.

This happens all the time. Meteor movies, remakes of the same film being made as both a movie and a rival studio’s TV mini series at the same time etc. I remember Robert Altman, when he beat the Catch 22 release date out with his own military comedy M*A*S*H, had a poster put in his office which read, Caught 22. It seems to be a little game that studios, directors and producers like to play with each other... but with big stakes.

Inevitably, one movie is always seen as better than the other because they are usually released within six months to a year of each other and are, naturally, very closely compared by their target audiences, who are presumably the exact same target audiences based on the chemical make up of whatever concept is being pitched to them.

This year we have two films released which are, pretty much, Die Hard in the White House. The first of these two out of the gate was released back in April and called Olympus Has Fallen (reviewed by me here) and I have to say that the film took me by surprise by being, not only well made, but also quite entertaining. I seem to remember it had a lot of head stabbing in it for some reason but only, I guess, because stealth tactics are required when you are sneaking around the White House trying to avoid bad guys with big guns. It was an okay film and I gave it an okay review.

White House Down, on the other hand, while being a competently put together action movie at some level, really isn’t nearly as good a movie as Olympus Has Fallen.  It’s been suggested the two films should be treated as different beasts but, honestly, they’re both about sneaking around the White House trying to rescue the president and a young, close family member while avoiding machine gun fire and, incidentally, saving the western world. There’s really not a heck a lot of a difference between the two except... well Olympus Has Fallen seemed to me to be more economical and pared down when compared to this latest Emmerich movie, which did seem rather bloated.

Both movies try to build up some decent background detail on the main characters but Olympus Has Fallen seems to do it in half the time and more effectively than White House Down, which is surprising to me because I am not the biggest fan of Gerard Butler, who plays the main protagonist of the former film... whereas I do quite like Channing Tatum, who plays more or less the same kind of role in the latter. White House Down just seems to take more time than necessary setting up characters whereas the first movie started on an unrelated “incident” which absolutely explained the emotional stakes involved.

White House Down is not a bad movie, and if I had seen it in isolation, I might have thought more of it. But it just tends to go for grand gestures and over the top characterisations... which is, I hasten to add, no fault of the brilliant actors involved. It also takes itself a hell of a lot less seriously than Olympus Has Fallen and, while I would normally applaud going with that kind of tactic in a big action movie, there seems to be so much less here at stake as a result of that...  even though the stakes are pretty high.

Tatum’s character actually does team up, through quite a chunk of the running time, with Jaime Foxx’s character, the president, and although the two have fairly good chemistry between them and are entertaining as a double act, it does tend to act as an antidote, in a way, to the long and overwrought suspense scenes and action sequences which make up the majority of the last two thirds of the movie.

I think one of the problems was that I just didn’t care much for any of the characters, even though the casting is brilliant and the talent on display here is without question. James Woods, for example, is always going to make the perfect version of the role he’s chosen to play in this and a big shout out, too, to actress Joey King who plays Channing Tatum’s young daughter... she was really here.

The action sequences too, were a little more confusing than I could cope with in places and I think the editing could have been little more generous and maybe not got in the way so much at times. Having said that, there were some fairly conscious artistic choices made in the editing room, to be fair but, even so, some of this seemed a bit over-indulgent for the kind of movie this is. At one point a reverse shot matched to a scene of one character leaving through a door juxtaposed with another character coming through a different door in another part of the house did throw me for a second. It just seemed the wrong time to be doing stuff like this.

I’d like to tell you what I thought about the score to the movie but I didn’t really notice it as it struggled to be heard over the constant soundscapes of gunfire and explosions... which brings me onto something else. For a lot of the film, the bad guys are trying to find the good guys in a “locked down” White House. In Olympus Has Fallen, there was a lot of stealth plays involved and, as I remarked earlier and in the review of the film itself, lots of head stabbings as a result of this. In this one, however, the good guys seem to be comfortable with making as much noise as they want while taking out bad guys without their buddies a floor or so up taking much notice. You’d think at some point somebody would have said something along the lines of... “Hey, Frank! Does that sound like heavy artillery fire to you? I bet that if we followed the machine gunny sound, it would lead us straight to the good guys.” But, no, nobody seems to be able to work out stuff like this here, it would seem.

The other thing that annoyed me is that there is a twist antagonist revealed right at the end of the movie but, honestly, if you’re anything like me you would probably have him pegged as such right from the start of the film. This wasn’t, in any way, a surprise and I would have thought that the writers could have at least tried to throw us off the scent a little at some point. So this was a shame.

Anyway. I’ve seen the movie and I’ve cast my vote. If you want to see a half decent action movie at the cinema this month then White House Down will deliver all the adrenalin and machismo you’ll need as much as anything else out right now at your local. If, however, you liked Olympus Has Fallen and you’re hoping for something similar, well... yeah, okay... it is similar. But it does seem to be more a case of “Never mind the quality, feel the width” I’m afraid.

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