There is some rather good set-up in the first 20 minutes of the film, quickly establishing a lot of relationships, knowledge, and motivations for later in the story. The moments are all a little ham-handed, but not disturbingly so, and it all helps provide an emotional grounding for the carnage to come. And once the film gets going, there is a lot of violence. Ruthless violence; nary a shooter avoids the head-shot as they clear a room. That factor, and the very clever attack plan executed on screen made it feel all the more visceral.
As the situation unfolds, however, the motivations and choices become absurd. Annoyingly so. I’m sorry, but you don’t give into or negotiate in the circumstances presented nor do your generals or Secretary of Defense act as these did … even when the President tells them to. If they did, they wouldn’t be worth their salt. The basis for these decisions is supposed to be in that 20 minute introduction to the people and background: it just doesn’t track. In order to enjoy the inevitable reversals, you have to squint through several incredibly unbelievable decision points.
The lack of credibility isn’t assisted by Freeman’s phoned-in performance nor Eckhart’s lack of credibility as President. And the less said about McDermott’s (Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Practice) character, the better. I actually like all these actors in different roles, but none of them really sold me with these performances. Butler (Coriolanus, 300) comes out of this OK, but you’d expect that given his role in both producing and starring in the film.
To add to the uncomfortable nature of the story choices, it is rather jingoistic. Given that it was originally to be released over the July 4th holiday, I shouldn’t be surprised but it didn’t help my frustration with the moments. Due to battling release dates with White House Down (review to be done another day) it was released much earlier and, as it turns out, to better reviews.
But, ultimately, you show up to a film like this for the action and the ride, not caring what color the roller-coaster is painted. For that aspect and the planning and execution of the attack, they get high marks. So, bowl of popcorn in hand, sit back, turn off your brain, and enjoy it for that aspect alone. It could have been so much better, but it also could have been so much worse. Not a ringing endorsement, I’ll grant you, but I did enjoy enough aspects that I wouldn’t deny others the opportunity to take the ride as well.