Saw White House Down yesterday on TV. Had never heard of it -- nor of its fraternal twin, Olympus Has Fallen -- and only watched out of lazy Sunday afternoon loss of will to channel surf. At the end, was surprised to find it had hooked me, despite being a typical dumb-and-loud actioner, trying to make some scratch off the corpse of Die Hard with maybe a dash of Air Force One thrown in.
Part of the reason I hung in with it was watching the noxious James Woods play the villain. At this stage of his career and celebrity, where his politics are well-known, it's the role he was born to age into. The old saw goes: to be a good villain, the bad guy should think he is the hero. This is what the movie gets exactly right in both the writing and casting of Woods' character -- retiring, terminally ill head of the Secret Service Presidential Detail with extreme right wing politics, forced to serve a black President who is trying to practice diplomacy in the Middle East -- they've given us a villain who could credibly be seen as believing he is right. He believes he, and his fellow conspirators, are going to save the world. It helps that the character's politics, while demented and malevolent, are not hard to find in the real world.
This movie cried out for an alternate version, one that could have been shot at the same time, but where all the cinematic conventions used to identify the hero in this sort of story were used to depict Wood's Martin Walker and Richard Jenkins' House Speaker Eli Raphelson as the heroes, and Channing Tatum's John Cale and Maggie Gyllenhaal's Agent Finnerty as the villains.
To be clear, I'm not saying we need movies with a crypto-fascist heroes. Rather, to have the version we got and my proposed alternate version, both produced with the same budget and rudimentary competence Roland Emmerich achieves with WHD, shown side-by-side would be the perfect object lesson to drive home the point of your Film Studies 101 classes and scores of youtube video essays. Add a few scenes where we get to see Walker's grief over his son's death, remove the scenes where we see Cale with his daughter being a good dad, and you'd be most of the way there. I can pretty much guarantee you the alternate version of this movie would find an adoring audience in the Republican base. They'd probably start forming Martin Walker Societies. (Which is why this should remain a thought experiment.)
You know John McCain (not to mention Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton, and the rest of the #47traitors crowd) would help promote it.