Can the real James Vanderbilt please stand up? It wasn’t just David Fincher that made Zodiac the film of the 00’s – it came from a very solid, very potent screenplay. The writer’s later efforts, however, have sat firmly in the mainstream. The Losers was fun but insignificant. Amazing Spider-Man was an effort, one hopes, overwhelmed by its evident commercial interest. And now, to rub it all in, he’s made a complete descent down the pantheon of Hollywood directors – from Fincher to Roland Emmerich, who brought us such “classics” as The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC and 2012. Forget Michael Bay, this is the real enemy – a 50-something juvenile insidiously dragging the cinema back down to a medium of disaster and destruction.
For those of us interested in more than these phallocentric urges, White House Down is, pleasingly, thematically structured. A good amount of time is allocated to introducing its characters, and the locations, before things go boom. It may be dense in bullshit American ideology, but Vanderbilt is allowed to express some heart. Fitting with Hollywood’s carefully cultivated liberal image, it mirrors the objective of the current administration before inevitably celebrating the violence it supposedly protests. That’s Emmerich’s cue to step in. Playing like many an episode of 24, paranoia takes hold. Terrorists blow things up and continue scheming. People run and scream. News cameras get inexplicably good coverage.
In the fallout, if one tries to piece together the villainous plot it doesn’t really make sense. “We need him alive”, for instance, is a device of narrative convenience – and not at all true. And by the time there’s a car chase – yes, a car chase – on the White House lawn, you know that the money people have taken over. Much like Jamie Foxx’s obvious Obama stand-in, Vanderbilt has to negotiate with the system in the attempt to achieve something worthwhile. The system may dominate, but the individual can bring his humanity and a warmth which, though dimmed, suggests a continued resolve to keep fighting.