Cinema Review: White House Down

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DIR: Roland Emmerich WRI: James Vanderbilt PRO: Roland Emmerich, Brad Fischer, Larry J. Franco, Laeta Kalogridis, Harald Kloser, James Vanderbilt. DOP: Anna Foerster ED: Adam Wolfe DES: Kirk M. Petruccelli CAST: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke

It is one of the terrible beauties of Hollywood genre filmmaking that it remains committed to the cause of ideological equivocation, even while seeming to attempt to confront the Realities of Globalization, Extremism, and Socio-Political Anxiety in the Post-9/11 World: it is consistency amidst chaos, perpetuating chaos.

White House Down, the latest from disaster film director par excellence Roland Emmerich, performs such a dance of prevarication with all the outwardly liberal leanings of the 18-34 millennial demographic. The baddies (and this could not possibly spoil anything) are inside-job conservatives in the pocket of military armament providers; the president (Jamie Foxx) is Backbone Obama with a penchant for Air Jordans and a natural affinity for the rocket launcher; the hero (Channing Tatum) is tough on terrorists and gentle on squirrels.

…He is, of course, also white because of course he is. Tatum, who has been lauded for the past year and a bit as Hollywood’s next superstar leading man (always the “next”, never the “now”) takes top billing despite Foxx’s having won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and despite the film’s multiple protagonist scope that could just as easily have seen President Sawyer’s role listed first on cast and credits. It’s not Channing Tatum’s fault he’s white, male, and conventionally attractive; it is Hollywood’s fault that so is every other marketable male action star today (with the recent, ageing exception of Will Smith).

That said, Tatum is just Sylvester Stallone-vapid enough to function as the all-American hero who just wants to impress his daughter by landing a job with the Secret Service and gets caught up instead in a terrorist attack at the White House. Handy that he learned to fight and defend – for politically sanctioned reasons – while serving in Afghanistan. And handy that as a foil for the ex-servicemen-gone-rogue responsible for blowing up Capitol Hill, he offsets anxieties about the essential moral corruptibility of the individual soldier trained to kill for money. The noble one – in Emmerich, in Hollywood – excuses (or eliminates where he cannot redeem) the several corrupt. That’s how capitalism saves the day every evening from the problems it posed in the morning.

Ideological dissonances notwithstanding, Channing Tatum’s Bankability Down boasts an excellently devised car chase across the White House lawn and the requisite number of explosions. Its narrative economy is remarkable – Die Hard-esque even – despite running over two hours long: there is nothing superfluous, nothing wanting in its plot. And yet, as the film’s recent tanking at the American box office would suggest, there is something fundamentally lacking in its design.

Perhaps it’s because Antoine Fuqua already made the same movie earlier in the year with Olympus Has Fallen. Perhaps it’s because Roland Emmerich actually blew up the White House way back in 1996, when the scariest enemies were from outer space, and techie nerds like Jeff Goldblum were more sexy-exotic, less Julian Assange-anarchist. Maybe the myth of the Hollywood disaster-action flick has been exploded one too many times in real life on tv, YouTube and the video phone to function as cathartic of our repressed fears and internalized anxieties. Whatever the case may be, what worked twenty years ago doesn’t work today, even with massively improved CGI and cynically-politically correct casting.

Ciara Máirín Barrett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

131 mins

White House Down is released on 13th September 2013

White House Down  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Lone Ranger

THE LONE RANGER

 

DIR: Gore Verbinski  • WRI: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio PRO: Jerry Bruckheimer , Gore Verbinski DOP: Bojan Bazelli  ED: James Haygood, Craig Wood  DES: Jess Gonchor • CAST: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson

There is a Native American aphorism, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” I watched Johnny Depp for two hours (and twenty minutes!) in his makeup, and that was enough to judge him fairly.

It’s no secret that Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski’s Lone Ranger update has been a miserable disappointment for the producer-director team. In the States and elsewhere it’s already released, it has consistently under-performed at the box office and caused no small amount of negative press for the once-critic’s darling Depp. He might have been due a backlash since the early 2000s, but leaving all Pirates and Willy Wonkas to the side, The Lone Ranger proves just how misguided Johnny’s star ascent has been.

Depp is Tonto is Captain Jack Crow, sidekick (and de facto star) to Armie Hammer’s blandly handsome Ranger. The story of their genesis (not that there’s going to be a sequel) is told from Tonto’s point of view via a distracting flashback device that sees the wizened Indian recounting their exploits to an aspiring young cowboy. From the beginning, Depp lets his grotesque makeup and offensively prosthetic nose do the lion’s share of acting for him – minus a few mincing steps and flamboyant pratfalls.

It’s a shame the loudness of Depp’s persona couldn’t have supported a more substantial foil in the Ranger himself. Sadly, Hammer functions only to look tall, square-jawed and noble, lusting chastely after his dead brother’s wife and goofing off just enough to satisfy the film’s overall boringly postmodern air of irony and self-reflexivity.

What’s good in the bad? William Fichtner is fantastically ugly, anyway, as the villainous Butch Cavendish. Fichtner, one of the best character actors in Hollywood, is effectively menacing within the PG-13 constraints of the film (they actually preserve the residue of threat around Cavendish; his most gruesome acts – cannibalism, for instance – cannot be directly represented, leaving them just out of sight and therefore up to the viewer’s imagination). Helena Bonham Carter is also good, if under-used, as a one-legged madam who shoots bullets from an ivory prosthesis.

The Lone Ranger is over-long and overblown, but of course it is most damningly racist (see above, re: Depp’s nose and makeup – with or without his tenuous claims to Native American ancestry, it’s still offensive) and profoundly cynical about it all. A whole army of noble Comanches can’t atone for a single of his “Kemosabes”. And I doubt they’ll be bringing him back anytime soon.

Ciara Máirín Barrett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

149 mins
The Lone Ranger is released on 9th August 2013

The Lone Ranger – Official Website

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