Director: Richard Loncraine
Cast: Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany, Virginia Madsen, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Robert Forster, Alan Arkin, Carly Schroeder, Jimmy Bennett, Robert Patrick
MPAA Rating: (for some intense sequences of violence)
Running Time: 1:45
Release Date: 2/10/06
Review by Mark Dujsik
At 63, Harrison Ford is not the young whippersnapper he used to be, and one of the appeals of Firewall is watching his screen persona adapted to accommodate this fact. They're minor details, but they make a huge difference in lending some credibility to a silly-smart thriller like this. Firewall is all about smart people doing silly things with advanced technology, but you'd have to have some sort of degree in computer programming to determine how right or wrong its presentation of a cyber-robbery is. I do not, and if you do, please do not inform me, as I will more than likely neither understand nor, most definitely, care. This is the kind of movie where the screenplay throws around phrases of techno-jargon like they were conjunctions and articles, and we simply sit there knowing they are completely unimportant because a character will eventually say, "Basically, I'm going to use all of this stuff to make a photocopy." The other characters agree, and the plot gets rolling again. I enjoyed the film's techno-babble and use of familiar devices in unexpected and questionable ways, but the real selling point is how the story takes very little time to get started and afterwards doesn't let up.
Jack Stanfield (Ford) is a bank security specialist working for a major Seattle financial institution about to undergo a substantial merger. He lives with his wife Beth (Virginia Madsen) and two kids in luxury in a house she designed. Jack is doubtful about the security details of the merger, even though Gary Mitchell (Robert Patrick), representative from the other company, constantly assures him and his associates that everything is fine. Coincidentally—or not so much so—a debt collector comes around the office looking to force Jack to pay back $95,000 in gambling losses for transactions he never made. While out for a drink with his partner Harry Romano (Robert Forster in a thankless role) and Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), a man looking for a business deal, men enter Jack's home and take his family hostage. Likewise, Cox enters Jack's car and shows him pictures of his family's captivity and forces him to drive home. Cox has been monitoring Jack for a while, and with the leverage, he wants Jack to go back to work the next day, where he tells him his plan: help him rob a hundred million dollars from the bank's richest clients, and he and his family will go unharmed.
There's nothing new or unfamiliar in the setup, and for that matter, the rest of the story arc plays out in the typical, expected fashion. Along the way, though, screenwriter Joe Forte throws out little inventions that keep the film from stagnating too far into the familiar. There's a well done sequence in which Jack tries to alert someone to his and his family's circumstances, but the problem is that Cox has placed a camera disguised as a pen in his pocket and a microphone under his tie. These are not to spy on the internal workings of the bank—he's seemingly already intimate enough with those details—but to keep Jack from telling anyone what's happened. He manages to look away from his computer to try to write an e-mail, but in perhaps the only faint reference to the movie's title, Cox has somehow mirrored his computer. Jack has another plan, which involves his secretary Janet (Mary Lynn Rajskub, essentially reprising her role from TV's "24," which is not necessarily a bad thing) and dictating a letter while wandering the office. Far more puzzling but equally enjoyable is how Jack decides to get the necessary information for Cox, using pieces of a fax machine and his daughter's iPod.
Can you use really use parts of a fax machine like that? Or an iPod (I wouldn't know, as I'm convinced they're the tools of the devil or at least one of his minions)? I am fairly confident that you cannot get an internet connection in the middle of nowhere, a conceit that becomes essential later on when the family dog becomes a key player for some inconceivable reason (Seriously, why do the thieves take the family pet with them?). All of these are part of the fun, though, because the movie assumes we do not know if iPods can interchange songs for account numbers. It also has a chase scene that relies too much on technology as Mitchell tries to hunt down Jack by following where he's swiped in with his ID card. I'm amused by scenes like this, because they are inherently ridiculous. Director Richard Loncraine understands this and focuses more on the overall plot arc instead of its tiny details. The exception is in its performances. Ford has played this role so many times, it's almost a forgone conclusion that somewhere along the line his character will turn the tables on his captors, but notice the small ways in which the movie acknowledges his age. Prime example: He jumps from a roof to a balcony and trips on the landing.
Firewall also has a reliable villain in Paul Bettany. With a deceitful charm and convincing American accent, Bettany helps prove again that a good villain helps make a good thriller. The movie works well beyond him as well; it's a solid escapist entertainment, equal parts silly and smart.
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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