I recently saw the new Channing Tatum / Jamie Foxx action movie, “White House Down.” I went to it fully expecting to see Tatum in a wifebeater, Foxx making stupid jokes, and lots of explosion — and, of course, I wasn’t disappointed. What I wasn’t anticipating was a surprisingly tight story and a telling commentary on the dangers of social media.
Don’t get me wrong — the movie is not the next “Citizen Kane.” Overall, it’s a typical summer blockbuster: low on theme, but big on car chases, gunshots, and quippy little one-liners. And, of course, Tatum looking at his utter dreamiest, while still maintaining his “Smart Man’s Bruce Willis” facade.
Yup, a little something for the ladies.
What was nice was that director Roland Emmerich took a nice little page of of Chekhov’s “Guide to Screenwriting” — if there’s a gun in the first Act, it better go off by the end. Every little piece of color that is brought up in the first Act of WHD does, indeed, come back later — whether it’s the protagonist daughter’s talent show, a painting that is spotted while taking a tour of the White House, or a pair of tickets that have a strangely personal touch. It makes the movie feel smarter than it really is, and certainly tighter, as the viewer is able to note all of the clever little tie-ins.
Just one more, because why not?
The movie has a few other clever little twists from the normal popcorn drivel of the summer doldrums: the enemies in this movie are not the usual “Chinese,” “North Koreans,” or “Russians” but are instead homegrown terrorists, conspiracy theorists, NSA defects, and white supremicists who want Obama. . .excuse me, Jamie Foxx. . .out of the Oval Office. That makes the movie a little more fun, trying to piece together who are the bad guys, who are the good guys, and what is the “right decision.”
The smartest part of the movie, however, is also a little deus ex machina to forward the plot, and that is the presence of the media. By this point, everyone knows the basis plot: Tatum’s character is in the White House, with his daughter. She wants a tour of the White House: he wants a job working for the Secret Service. While they are still wandering around, the terrorists break in, trying to take hostages and do something horrible with the president.
The daughter, early on, explains to her father the importance of her vlogging (video blogging? Youtube uploading? What do kids call it these days?). In the middle of the movie she takes video of the terrorists and uploads it to youtube, as any ridiculously precocious, self-possessed, and obscenely brave 11 year old in a movie does. Note: she uploads it to Youtube. Our government officials are busy looking at data, profiles of the terrorists, and an upcoming peace summit, and don’t notice the upload. CNN, Fox News, and ABC promptly notice the viral video, and being playing it.
Ruh-roh. The government is able to use this to id the terrorists. That’s good. The terrorists see it being aired on tv. That’s bad.
And then, unbelievably, the media actually IDENTIFIES the girl who has been uploading videos from inside the hostage situation, including a photo of her. It sounds unbelievable right? What’s so hilariously great about the situation is that I could completely see the media doing just that in real life — after all, isn’t that pretty much what happened after the Boston Marathon bombing? In their haste to get out the story, and to beat the other networks, the imaginary news outlets in WHD ‘out’ the insider, putting her in mortal danger. And, throughout the film, the media is continually giving out information — not just to the public, but to the terrorists themselves.
The movie is clearly not meant to be a social commentary on the danger of the media, social media, or the potential for conflict that exists when civilians get mixed up in government and military business. It’s supposed to be a showcase for a new type of buddy cop movie in which neither character is a cop. It’s a showcase for Channing Tatum’s arms. Still, it gave perhaps the greatest moral lesson that I’ve seen in movies lately. Stop. Think. Then act.