Movie Review: Defense-Industrial Complex the Villain in “White House Down”

Special ops Black Hawk helicopters race toward a burning White House in the summer action flick "White House Down." (Promotional Photo)

Have you seen the summer action flick “White House Down” yet, Intercepts reader and loyal employee of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex? No? Well, you might want to skip this one.

Trust your correspondent, military-industrial complex member — especially if you’re plagued by high blood pressure, frustration, and/or anxiety. Let’s just say U.S. weapons manufacturers are portrayed as, well, a bunch of warmongering villains. Terrorists, even.

The storyline is built largely around a sweeping plan crafted by fictional U.S. President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) to withdraw all American military forces from the Middle East. The plan, slated for its first Capitol Hill vote as the movie kicks off, has the backing of Washington’s friends in the region — and some longtime foes, including a new Iranian leader.

President Sawyer — who comes over in the film’s opening minutes as one of the least believable U.S. presidents ever depicted on the big screen — runs into some, shall we say, resistance. Washington obstructionists armed with sophisticated explosives, heavy machine guns and Javelin surface-to-air missiles (built originally by the firms that became Raytheon and Lockheed Martin) threaten the Sawyer peace plan.

If you think the peace plan itself is a tad unrealistic, the flick is chock full of inaccuracies and moments that make most in the theater laugh sarcastically in unison. For instance, several one-liners at key moments are so cheesy the screen practically oozes cheddar. (To be fair, a few of those lines are delivered so well by a surprisingly solid cast of supporting actors that they do work, and generated deserved big laughs in my theater.)

But I digress.

The obstructionists — or as they are called during the film, “the terrorists” — are never linked directly to U.S. weapon manufacturers. And no defense exec appears in the flick. But one key player in the plot to blow up the Capitol Building, seize the White House and use President Sawyer to gain control of America’s nuclear weapons arsenal clearly is doing the bidding of the titans of the American defense sector.

Defense industry executives are portrayed as strongly opposing the Sawyer peace initiative because their profits, stock options and bonuses are tied to a state of perpetual war and U.S. involvement in the Middle East. In fact, the defense sector is so opposed to the president’s proposal that it recruited the speaker of the House to help carry out the “terrorist” plot, which (trust me) would have launched World War III.

Yet, despite bashing the defense sector over the head for 131 minutes, the flick is mostly kind to some big-ticket weapon systems the evil, plotting companies produce. At one dramatic moment near the film’s climax, Sikorsky-made Black Hawk helicopters specially made for U.S. special operations forces traverse the Washington, D.C., cityscape for an assault to take back the executive mansion. At another, four Lockheed Martin-made F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft are deployed to, as crazy as it might sound, bomb the White House to end the homegrown terrorist-defense industry plot.

The U.S. military also takes some lumps in “WHD,” including how the apparent Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Caulfeild, is portrayed. The four-star Army general sure looks good in his uniform. But pro-military viewers likely will be turned off — or worse — by the general’s rather robotic personality that always prefers to use force while distrusting any other agency involved in national security.

As a character, Caulfeild, put simply, is the polar opposite of some recent real-life chairman. He’s not the big-picture Mike Mullen or the affable, singing Marty Dempsey.

Cynical? Yes. Thought-provoking? Absolutely. Is “WHD” likely to be shown on a massive screen in defense-sector strongholds near Washington like Rosslyn or Crystal City? Not a chance.

(Overall Rating: 2 ½ of 5 stars. The quintessential unrealistic, yet action-packed summer thrill ride that was the perfect way to spend a few hours on a steamy July 4th. Just be sure to suspend reality upon entering the theater. Foxx as president grew on me, and as shocked as I am to type this, I think he actually pulled off the part. Channing Tatum stole the show as heroic military veteran John Cale, kind of a modern-day John McClane from the “Die Hard” series. It’s likely only worth seeing at a matinee price — or viewing at home in your defense industry-funded home theater.)

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett