Film / White House Down
Reporter: It's the president! He has a rocket launcher!
John Cale (Channing Tatum
) is a US Capitol Police officer who is trying to impress his young daughter by letting her join him at the White House during his job interview for a position on the President's security detail. Unfortunately, a paramilitary group attacks the White House during their tour, and when most of the Secret Service ends up dead and the tourists end up being taken hostage, there's only one dude bad enough to save the President
(and a bunch of other people too). The President himself (Jamie Foxx
) is pretty badass, too.
The direct competitor
to Olympus Has Fallen
. Compare and contrast it.
This movie has sensitive
plot twists. You Have Been Warned
This film contains Examples of:
- Greed: The mercenaries as a whole are getting paid handsomely for their work, though as a bonus almost all of them have some sort of grievance against the government.
- Grenade Hot Potato: Cale throws a grenade at Killick, but didn't wait long enough after pulling the pin so Killick simply kicks it back towards him.
- Guns Akimbo: Cale uses this for about five seconds, entirely for suppressive fire, in a situation where he's rapidly running out of options. One of the guns is even Gangsta Style.
- Heroic Bystander: Donnie the tour guide, who saves Cale from Killick with the use of an antique German mantle clock.
- Hollywood Hacking: Missiles, whether nuclear or conventional, cannot be launched remotely, the guys at the on-site controls have to approve it.
- Hollywood Law: The characters, particularly Carol, act as if invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment is some irrevocable order that essentially means they're writing the current president off as dead. In reality, this would only last as long as Sawyer was under duress, and his position would be his again as soon as the crisis was averted. Indeed, if they wanted to solve the situation, they shouldn't have made such a fuss over it and done it as soon as possible.
- Hollywood Silencer: Used by the bad guys in the initial attack, efficiently wiping out security until they get their hands on the bigger guns stored in the armory and abandon any pretense of stealth.
- Averted with the SMG Sawyer uses to kill a mook in the kitchen.
- Hypocrite: Towards the end, after Stenz decides to take Cale on single-handed to avenge the men Cale has killed, Walker yells at him for making things personal. Stenz yells back that given that Walker is planning to launch a whole lot of nukes at the Middle East to avenge the death of his son, he doesn't really have much room to accuse someone else of taking things personally.
- Improvised Weapon: Cale uses several throughout the film, mainly because he's got limited amounts of ammo and has to keep stealing new guns. For example, during the kitchen brawl, he uses, among other things, a toaster and a drinking glass as melee weapons.
- Donnie beats one of the terrorists to death with a clock.
- Insistent Terminology: Emily insists that it's known as a "YouTube channel" and not a "video blog" or "blog". She lets it slide when Sawyer says "blog", though. Might have something to do with him being the President.
- Instant Death Bullet: Subverted. There are multiple instances in which someone gets shot but doesn't die immediately. The full aversion is implied when Walker is using Emily to get Cale to cooperate; he specifically states that he'll shoot her in the stomach, dooming her to a slow, painful death.
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: Brought up briefly when Emily correctly answers all of Donnie's questions and does the "hand goes up immediately" thing.
Cale: Do you get picked on in school?
Emily [confused]: No.
- Intrepid Reporter: Emily gets to ask a question of President Sawyer and she queries a political one worthy of a reporter from The New York Times or 60 Minutes.
- It's Personal: One of Cale's first kills is a man who saved Stenz's life in battle twice. Stenz takes it upon himself to hunt down Cale.
- I Surrender, Suckers: Cale uses this to great effect. When cornered, he starts bawling and begging for his life, waiting for the goon's guard to go down, and then shooting him three times.
- I Want Them Alive: Walker and Raphelson need President Sawyer alive in order to hijack the nuclear arsenal with his football. Sawyer is aware of this and exploits it on multiple occasions.
- Karma Houdini: Muriel Walker allows her husband to continue with the attack on the White House in favor of their dead son and is unpunished for her actions. It's probably not illegal to simply voice support though, so there's likely nothing they could do to her.
- Karmic Death: Tyler, who is killed by his own booby trap.
- Large Ham: Tyler, the hacker. Looks like Steve Jobs, has a really big ego, and puts up operatic music while hacking. He's the guy who says "It's SHOWTIME" in the trailers.
- The Last Dance: Walker will be dead of a brain tumor in a few months, hence his willingness to go as far as he does.
- Made of Iron: A list of things Cale goes through during the film: several hand-to-hand fights, multiple shootouts and explosions, a high speed car chase that ends when the car is hit with an RPG and then crashes into the White House pool, topped off by falling through a glass roof and jumping through several other windows. A list of his injuries at the end of the film: a bloody nose and a bleeding cut on his bicep.
- Magic Countdown: The screen shows eight minutes until the airstrike. After a very long time, there are still four minutes left.
- Mauve Shirt: Special Agent Todd. One of the few (if not only) Secret Service men who is named and speaks to Cale in at least two scenes. He gets unceremoniously gunned down by Killick when the tour group gets taken hostage.
- Meaningful Name: Psychopath Killick and Agent Hope.
Walker to Carol: "Killing Hope was the second hardest thing I had to do."
- Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Stenz is a combination of this and You Have Outlived Your Usefulness. He was once a highly decorated Delta Force soldier who did classified undercover work for the CIA in Pakistan. When the Secretary of Defense under Sawyer's administration shut down the operation and disavowed its assets, Stenz was exposed, captured, and sent to a Taliban prison. Finnerty's first reaction: "No wonder he's pissed at us".
- The Mole: Walker and Raphelson.
- Monumental Damage: Compared to the director's earlier films, the White House and the Capitol Hill are the only major targets of architectural mayhem. And both can be rebuilt.
- Motive Misidentification: It's clear to everyone that Walker's demands for $400 million and a plane are misdirection. Sawyer concludes that his attack on the White House is to get revenge for his son, who died on a botched military mission. Walker ultimately reveals that he applauded that mission, and was pissed that they didn't follow up on it. His plan is to seize control of the nuclear arsenal and bomb the Middle East in service to the cause his son died for.
- Mr. Fanservice: Channing Tatum. In a sleeveless shirt. Covered in sweat. Yeaaah.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Sawyer seems to express guilt after killing a mook while saving Cale, but Cale assures him he had no choice.
- Not-So-Innocent Whistle: Tyler.
- Not What I Signed On For: Stenz's Dragon (not Killick) immediately and vocally objects to Walker nuking the Middle East. Walker ends up killing him while Stenz is busy with Cale.
- Oh Crap!:
- Walker when he sees that Sawyer has a grenade. And the pin has just been pulled.
- Tyler when his card key doesn't disarm the bomb.
- Raphelson, after an epic Smug Snake rant, has one when he finds out that Sawyer is alive, he's no longer president, and his plan has failed.
- One-Man Army: Cale. It helps he had experience overseas.
- Our Presidents Are Different: A President Minority/President Target combination; the director specifically pointed out that unlike one of his previous presidents Sawyer is definitely not President Action (at least not in the beginning).
- Papa Wolf: John. The bad guys made a big mistake threatening his daughter. The Dragon finds this out the hard way when, after using his daughter as a hostage, gets an entire jacket of grenades tied around his neck and set off. And Walker, who also wasn't shy about threatening to kill Emily, gets an entire Gatling Gun clip unloaded into him. Lesson learned from the spoilers? Don't threaten Emily Cale if you know what's good for you.
- Passing the Torch: Implied. President Sawyer's role model was President Lincoln. Emily's is President Sawyer. Needless to say, she's too young to be the President , but give her a few years.
- Patriotic Fervor: Can't get more patriotic than having a Badass fighting President, except letting him ride in a Humongous Mecha.
- Pet the Dog: Walker convinces Carol to leave the White House before everything goes down, thus sparing her from being gunned down.
- Pocket Protector: President Sawyer survives a gunshot thanks to a pocket watch — not just any pocket watch either, it was President Lincoln's.
- Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie: Lighter and Softer than many others on that list. As an extra jab at the terrorism, early on before the infiltrators are ID'd, one reporter mentions that there was no way that this couldn't be linked to the War on Terror. It turns out that four of the infiltrators are white and have extensive backgrounds with the CIA.
- Another reporter/analyst says "there's no way the attackers could be anyone but Arabs" which works out just fine for the attackers until Emily's video is broadcast.
- Psycho for Hire: Most of the named mercenaries are psychopaths, though one of them seems to be more of a Punch Clock Villain and gets disturbed at how far the others are willing to go.
- Precision F-Strike:
"Permission to speak freely?"
"It's a shitstorm in there!"
"As the President of the United States this comes with the full weight, power, and authority of my office...Fuck you."
"You dim little shit."
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis! / Punctuated Pounding: "Get! Your! Hands! Off my Jordans!"
- Also "Stop! Hurting! My! White! House!"
- Ramming Always Works:
- What Cale plans to do driving The Beast limo through the front gates of the White House. Sawyer quickly tells him those gates are designed against that sort of thing.
- Played straight when Cale later on drives an SUV into the Oval Office to stop Walker finishing the launch commands.
- A Rare Sentence:
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Big Bad delivers one to President Sawyer once he has the Nuclear Football.
- Red Herring: The Vice President almost seems a little too eager to invoke the 25th and take command, making it seem like he might have ulterior motives. He is, in fact, simply trying to do the right thing.
- Red Shirt Army: Everyone in the White House security detail gets gunned down very quickly when the mercenaries attack; only a few manage to fire back, but they miss and get shot themselves.
- Retirony: Much is made about how the Head of the Presidential Detail, Walker, is on his last week on the job, complete with a n Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene sequence where he leaves his house the morning of the attack. He does die, but that's because he's actually the bad guy. He also has an inoperable brain tumor which was killing him anyway.
- Revenge: The motivation for the two lead attackers Walker's son was killed in a secret operation but what he's really angry about isn't that he died but that operation didn't lead to more action in the Middle East (the fact that the weapons his son's team was looking for didn't exist was just a minor detail); Stenz was a CIA operative who was disavowed after budget cuts and had a very bad time in a Taliban prison after he was exposed.
- In a more direct case, Stenz shoots the Secretary of Defense, the man responsible for getting him locked up in a Taliban prison in the first place.
- Right Man in the Wrong Place: The fact that the Cales had White House passes on the day of the plot is the only reason why it failed.
- Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: Most of the mercenaries.
- Rule of Cool: It's a Roland Emmerich movie.
- Rule of Pool: A bit of a Contrived Coincidence that the limo was lined up and flew just so.
- Running Gag: Raphelson and Walker are both "dinosaurs" when it comes to tech and still use pagers.
- Shout-Out: Donnie mentions the spot where the White House was blown up in Independence Day. Helps that this movie also has the same director of said movie.
- Shown Their Work: The film makers clearly did a lot of research into the White House's layout and lore for the film.
- The Sociopath: Killick, one of the mercenaries, is explicitly said to be one.
- Smug Snake: Raphelson, when he thinks he's won. After Cale proves he was a mastermind of the whole plot:
Raphelson: You dim little shit. I hired you out of pity, and this is how you repay me. But, you know tomorrow, when the people find out that your precious president helped a maniac open the nuclear football, who do you think they're going to believe? You, or me? Well, let's see now. You? You would be a nobody. But me? I'm the President of the United States.
- Spanner in the Works: The villains' plan would have probably gone off without a hitch if a certain off-duty Capitol Police officer hadn't landed a job interview in the White House that same day.
- Soft Glass: Averted once, when the president gets a shard of glass in his torso after an explosion, but played straight every time Cale jumps/crashes through a window (which happens multiple times throughout the film).
- Straw Character:
- President Sawyer's hypothesis about the plot against him involves one of these. Whether the writers subscribe to said hypothesis is never made explicit.
- A number of those involved in the takeover of the White House are extreme right-wing radicals; the justification for this is that they were drawn from the pool identified by the Secret Service as having expressed credible threats against the President — said people tending to be nutcases.
- Tattooed Crook: Several of the mercenaries have tattoos, most notably Killick.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The Big Bad wants to use the nuclear football to nuke some major targets. Also, the deaths of Stenz and Walker, with a grenade necklace and an SUV and minigun to the face respectively.
- Took a Level in Badass: President Sawyer gets one teaming up with Cale to take out the terrorists. Also Donnie the Tour Guide.
- So does Emily, who stares down a lunatic with a gun aimed at her head and later tells the president she "understands" when he tells her he can't give the nuclear launch codes up to save her life. Notably, the level she takes is not a very big one, as she was already provably badass when she recorded and uploaded a video of the mercenaries.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The trailers show Air Force One being blown out of the sky, so anyone you see on the plane early on is doomed.
- Twenty-Fifth Amendment: What else does one invoke when the White House is under hostile control? Becomes a major plot point to get Raphelson to the level of getting the launch codes Walker can use with Sawyer's nuclear football.
- Two-Keyed Lock: Averted with the nuclear football: the president's hand print and codes are all that is needed to launch America's nuclear arsenal, and no one else seems to have the authority to override. Especially since Skip hacked in and prevented them from being able to.
- Villainous Breakdown:
- Walker when things start falling apart around him.
- Ralphelson loses it when Cale and Sawyer reveal his part in the plan and have him arrested.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Walker wants to end the conflict in the Middle East and prevent any more Americans from dying there, as his son did... but his preferred method of doing so is to nuke the area into oblivion.
- Wicked Cultured: Skip Tyler, who plays Beethoven as he hacks into the missile codes.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The president's wife and daughter are shown on screen reacting to word that the President is presumed dead. We are left hanging as that plotline is never resolved with them learning he survived and he doesn't call them before the end of the movie.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Arguably, Martin Walker. His son being killed in the Middle East was what drove him into this plan.
- World Limited to the Plot: Only the White House takes the focus of the movie (around 80%). There are other areas that are featured throughout D.C. (and outside the US itself), but they are briefly mentioned.
- The build-up of forces in Russia and China play in the background, and become relevant when Walker gets his hacker to break into NORAD, threatening global nuclear strikes.
- At the end, it's casually mentioned that the other major powers are standing down their forces and signing onto Sawyer's peace plan.
- Would Hurt a Child: The mercenaries and Walker are more than willing to hurt Emily. Stenz actually strikes Emily and threatens to murder her out of spite if it looks like they'll be caught or killed.
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child:
- The main pilot of the air-strike against the White House aborts the attack when he sees Emily on the front lawn. Notable in that he makes the call himself, instead of waiting to hear from his commanders whether to proceed or not. For his part, the Speaker, now President, clams up and forces the pilot to make a judgment call.
- Sawyer surrenders himself when Walker threatens Emily. When Walker threatens Emily with a gun to her head to force Sawyer to unlock his nuclear football, however, Sawyer calmly informs her that he cannot be party to such an atrocity, even at the cost of her life. Emily accepts this reasoning and braces herself for the bullet.
- Wunza Plot: One's an ex-soldier hoping to make the Secret Service! One's the President of the United States! Together, they blow up terrorists!
- You Need to Get Laid: Walker suggests this to Carol, though not so directly. He's trying to do her a favor by getting her out of the White House before everything goes south.