Firewall (Warner Bros., PG-13)

The movie isn’t interested in showing us the intricacies of high-stakes computer hacking; what it wants to do is study a devoted family man under increasing pressure, and figure out ways for him to maneuver in a seemingly hopeless scenario.

 

Virginia Madsen, Jimmy Bennett, and Harrison Ford in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Firewall

Harrison Ford is a self-aware kind of guy. He knows what he likes, knows the kind of roles movie audiences want to see him in, and knows how darn lucky he is to be one of the most successful actors in Hollywood. From the start, he approached acting the same way he approached his prior carpentry trade: as a series of interesting tasks and puzzles to be solved. His workmanlike ethic has served him well, and when paired with a good director and script (Witness, The Fugitive, Air Force One), the results can be memorable and audience pleasing.

But let’s face it: This Ford has been coasting a bit of late. He’s made very few films, and those he has signed up for didn’t exactly wow the masses (Hollywood Homicide, anyone?). The new Firewall is no classic, but it does draw on some of Ford’s strengths: an honest man, of some authority, must protect his family from ruthless, scheming villains. Game on.

Ford plays Jack Stanfield, the head of security for a prominent Seattle bank. He handles pressure well (the bank is undergoing a complex merger), he has a devoted assistant (24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub), and he adores his family (Virginia Madsen plays wife Beth, while his two children are portrayed by Jimmy Bennett and Carly Schroeder). But Jack’s idyllic homestead is invaded by armed men, headed by the suave, determined Bill Cox (Paul Bettany). Cox and gang take the family hostage, setting up an elaborate surveillance system to monitor Jack’s every move. Their aim? To “persuade” Jack to compromise his own security apparatus and transfer millions of dollars to an offshore account. If he refuses, it’s sayonara, dear family. Cox ain’t bluffing, either, as demonstrated by his cruel manipulation of little Andrew’s allergy to nuts to make a point. Since Jack’s being watched every second, he would seem to have few options for outwitting the baddies. But this being a Harrison Ford movie, there’s not much suspense about whether or not our hero will prevail.

In fact, there’s really not much suspense here, period. For a thriller, this movie spends an inordinate amount of time watching people talk and walk around. There are conversations between the bad guys and Madsen, bits of nervous dialogue between Ford and his high-level colleagues (Alan Arkin and Robert Patrick among them), and increasingly tense verbal rounds between Ford and Bettany. The movie isn’t interested in showing us the intricacies of high-stakes computer hacking; what it wants to do is study a devoted family man under increasing pressure, and figure out ways for him to maneuver in a seemingly hopeless scenario. But having Ford mouth lines like, “You’ll get your money when I get my family!” isn’t as compelling as it should be, and except for the climactic confrontation between Ford and Bettany (set up rather improbably), there’s a paucity of genuinely gripping scenes.

Madsen is a fine actress (as proven in Sideways), but she’s asked to do precious little here, and it’s tough to fully buy her as Ford’s spouse. Bettany makes for a sleek, well-mannered villain—but even he’s missing some kind of extra edge, like the kind Alan Rickman had as a similarly ambitious thief in Die Hard. So what you end up with in Firewall is…an average Harrison Ford movie. It’s a periodically diverting piece, and director Richard Loncraine stages some believably realistic segments at the old Stanfield homestead. But you can’t help the feeling that you’re seeing pretty rote filmmaking here. Ford is capable of doing fine work, but as a vehicle for his talents, this one is set on cruise control.

Official site

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply