See how they conceive evil,
and are pregnant with mischief,
and bring forth lies.
They make a pit, digging it out,
and fall into the hole that they have made.
Their mischief returns upon their own heads,
and on their own heads their violence descends.
Director Antoine Fuqua’s adrenaline-pumping thriller never flags in its action. It is one of those hero-as-a-one- man-army films—all the critics mention Die Hard— that momentarily satisfies your visceral craving for adven ture, as long as you do not think about it. And it benefits from recent news reports—Ashly Judd, playing the President’s wife, has turned down an opportunity to run against Kentucky’s US Senator McConnell; North Korea, villains in the movie, has been making bellicose threats; and the film’s head of the Secret Service is a woman, played by Angela Basset, thus foreshadowing President Obama’s recent appointment of Julia Pierson as the first woman head of the agency.
In the prologue we learn why Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), once a favorite guardian of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), has been moved over to a desk job at the Treasury Department, Then comes the fateful day when the President has invited the President of South Korea to the White House and a low flying C-130 intrudes into forbidden airspace, its guns killing pedestrians below as it rushes toward the executive mansion. The President and his top security advisors, including the Vice President are rushed to the underground bunker. As a courtesy the South Korean President and his entourage are included. Big mistake. Turns out that the South Korean head of security, a man identified only as Kang (Rick Yune), is actually a renegade terrorist who has hand-picked the other members of his security team. Springing into action, they quickly subdue the Americans and gain access to the White House communications network.
Meanwhile, on the outside, the C-30, after shooting down a couple of planes sent to intercept it, is itself shot down, but not before wreaking severe loss of life and property. As it crashes it even knocks down a large section of the Washington Monument. But this does not end the attack on the White House. A convoy of large garbage trucks draw near. Their side panels open up to reveal rapid fire guns spewing death and destruction as they crash their way onto the grounds. Agents jump out and commence firing at the American security and FBI agents who have gathered to protect the President. The latter are soon mowed down, and the North Koreans enter and sweep through the building, killing all in their path.
This is where Agent Mike Manning enters the action, calling upon all his experience as a specially trained combat soldier. At first, part of the suspense centers on his finding and getting to safety the President’s young son Connor (Finley Jacobsen) so that Kang will not be able to use him in presuring the President to do his bidding. In the bunker Kang threatens, tortures, and kills some of the staff, including the Vice President, to obtain the three sets of codes he needs to activate the nations nuclear missiles—and to force the President into calling back the Navy’s 7th Fleet guarding South Korea, as well as remove our troops from the DMZ. One of the stand-outs in this portion is Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense, whom Kang roughs up and is prepared to shoot if she does not reveal her part of the code.
A third set of people whom we see are the responders at the Pentegon headed by Gen. Clegg (Robert Forster) the tough head of the Joint Chiefs; Speaker of the House (and now acting President) Trumbull (Morgan Freeman); and Secret Service Director Jacobs (Angela Bassett). The latter, when contacted by Manning, try to run the rescue operation, but, of course, in good action hero fashion, Manning because he knows the White House so well, insists on doing things his way. His way will include lots of one-on-one fights and ambushes of Kang’s thugs, the torturing of a captive terrorist, and radio exchanges with Kang filled with taunts.
The film is highly entertaining, but also morally troubling (for some). Even though we know the eventual outcome mandated by the genre, there are many very suspenseful scenes. It should also be noted that just as our memory of some Manning’s daring deeds start to fade, we will be treated in June to another Washington attack, Roland Emmerich’s White House Down boasting an even more high-powered cast.
1. How does this thriller compare to other action films?
2. To obtain information from the terrorist Manning uses VERY “enhanced interrogation.” What do you think of this? Did your audience express approval, as mine did? How does this relate to the on-going debate over the issue?
3. To what of our darker side do films such as this one appeal?