If it hits a little close to home, that’s the point. Director Antoine Fuqua and actor-
producer Gerard Butler wanted the events to seem plausible.
“I try to find a way to ground the movie in some reality, in something that’s happening in the world, in something that we can all connect to,” Fuqua said on a recent visit to Washington.
Riveting action rooted in real-world drama is the norm in Fuqua’s films, which also include “Training Day” (2001) and “Tears of the Sun” (2003). Another common thread is the hero’s journey. In this case, Secret Service agent Mike Banning — played by Butler — is tasked with saving the day.
Once the favorite handler of President Asher (Aaron Eckhart), Banning is relegated to desk duty after a tragedy involving the first family. But when North Korean terrorists storm the White House, Banning finds himself hiding under the crumbling roof of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Inside the bunker, a terrorist who goes by Kang begins negotiating with the Pentagon. In return for meeting outrageous demands, Kang promises to free the president.
This is Banning’s opportunity to right his reputation. All he has to do is kill the countless terrorists roaming the White House corridors and then find a way into the impenetrable bunker to save the president and various Cabinet members.
“That’s the ‘Rocky’ moment. He doesn’t think he’s going to win,” Butler said. “When he fights, even though he thinks he’s going to lose, you see his moments of doubt and vulnerability. That’s what I want to work with.”
But Butler didn’t want to confuse unlikely success with impossibility. Banning may be succeeding against all odds, but that does not mean other events should be preposterously far-fetched. Butler saw something special in the original script, but when he approached Fuqua to direct, he admitted that certain passages were going to need an overhaul.
That original version featured civilians being blinded by high-tech gizmos that emit invisible electronic waves, and it culminated in a train busting through a wall and into the Potomac River — “Definitely out of an ’80s action movie,” Butler said. So the actor and director opted to cut down on the frills. The enemies arrive in old trucks and planes.
“There’s a simplicity to it, the way there’s a simplicity to what happened before where essentially box cutters changed the future of the world,” Butler said. “Here it’s a C-130 cargo plane, it’s tourists, it’s trash trucks, all of these things that are so normal and yet are so dangerous.”