A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that White House Down is a patriotic thriller in the vein of Olympus Has Fallen and Independence Day, in which the country is saved by one brave man with a gun -- in this case Channing Tatum. Like Independence Day, which was also directed by Roland Emmerich, there's a lot of violence, but most of it is on a grand scale -- explosions, helicopters/planes crashing, and deaths the audience doesn't see too up close. There are a few hand-to-hand combat scenes and a tense hostage situation in which people (some in high levels of the administration) are executed or wounded. A young girl is frequently in danger and is almost killed on a couple of occasions (which ups the movie's intensity level), and the president seems dead. There's absolutely no sex or romance, but there's some language, including a single "f--k you," plus "s--t," "bitch," and "a--hole." Ultimately it's a crowd-pleasing action movie with a well-intentioned but slightly contradictory message involving both peace and the importance of armed defense.
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What's the story?
Progressive U.S. President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is on the precipice of negotiating peace in the Middle East, and Capitol police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) is at the White House in hopes of landing a Secret Service job. Cale's application is rejected, but he sticks around to accompany his politics-obsessed daughter, Emily (Joey King), on a tour of the White House. While the Cales enjoy their tour, the hawkish retiring head of the president's Secret Service detail (James Woods) orchestrates the bloody takeover of the White House with the aid of an extremist crew of paramilitary mercenaries led by disgraced Delta Force operator Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke). In the right place to make a difference, Cale is the sole person inside the White House with the experience to save President Sawyer, but he must also find a way to protect Emily before the terrorists destroy the nation's biggest symbol.
Is it any good?
Judged by the merits of serious filmmaking, the legends of the craft, and the movies that go down in history as being powerful, groundbreaking, or novel, this is a by-the-numbers flop of a thriller. It's completely unoriginal (it's not even the first "White House is taken over" movie of 2013!) and derivative; the plot is illogical and the action preposterous (how can not one military-trained armed guard get a shot off, even in a surprise siege?). But. It's also one of those explosion-filled summer popcorn movies that make you succumb to the charm of its cast, the humor of the dialogue, and the over-the-top sequences of one man defeating a room of machine gun-armed mercenaries.
Some movies are so silly you can't help but smile -- so ridiculous it doesn't even matter how impeachable the movie is on almost every level, because it's amusing and makes good use of its stars. People will laugh when they're not meant to, mostly because it looks like Tatum and Foxx (who, despite what he's said in the press, looks very much like he's doing an impression of an Obama-esque Commander in Chief) are having so much fun. The bits of humor (shoeless President Sawyer looks into his closet for wingtips and then changes into Air Jordans instead; later, he says "the pen IS mightier" when sticking it to a baddie with his presidential fountain pen), the well-choreographed action, and the performances -- from the irresistible Tatum, to the fabulous Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Woods as villains, to Maggie Gyllenhaal as the Secret Service agent trying desperately to help -- will make up for this crowd-pleaser's many failings.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the amount of violence in White House Down. Does any of it seem realistic? How does that affect its impact?
How does seeing the destruction of national landmarks like the White House and the Capitol affect you? Is it more disturbing than when random buildings explode in movies?
Talk about which historical facts/trivia nuggets you learned about the White House and the presidency. Is the immediate line of presidential secession clearer now that you've seen it played out on screen? What did you think about the jockeying for control between the Secret Service and the military/joint chiefs of staff?
How does the movie's depiction of domestic terrorists and military mercenaries differ from other threats to the White House in previous movies/TV shows?
- In theaters: June 28, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: November 5, 2013
- Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal
- Director: Roland Emmerich
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image