“Harrison Ford is 21 years older than Virginia Madsen,” I remarked to a friend the other day, pausing to let that sink in. “Well, that happens,” my friend replied. “Not really,” I said. “Well,” my friend said, “it happens to Harrison Ford.” This is probably the best way to approach Firewall, a vague, muddled, lifeless pseudo-thriller starring the 63-year-old Ford as a bank security chief forced to rob the bank in order to rescue his kidnapped family. Nothing in it is close to believable but, well, it happens to Harrison Ford. Directed by Richard Loncraine, whose work includes Wimbledon and an episode of the good but (let’s face it) overrated Band of Brothers, and written by Joe Forte, Firewall is a boring, lax, uninvolving, and thoroughly predictable movie. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a Speak & Spell: You get out exactly what you put in.
Ford stars as Jack, because the hero in these movies is always named Jack. It’s one of Bruckheimer’s Rules of Modern Filmmaking, along with Villains Have Machine Guns But No One Ever Gets Shot and Reluctant Anti-Heroes Turn Out To Be Surprisingly Athletic. Jack has a loving wife, Beth (Madsen), and two kids, an 8-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl that look far too young to actually have been fathered by Jack. From the outset, Ford’s age difference is an inescapable drag on the reality of the family dynamic necessary for the tension Loncraine needs to, but can’t, create. Ford’s voice barely rises above a mumble, and as he shuffles through the kitchen with that weary grin he’s been wearing since Raiders of the Lost Ark, he looks more like the gnarled grandfather than the strong father he’s meant to be. The public consciousness still sees Ford as the take-charge fighter from Air Force One, but that was a decade ago, and time hasn’t been kind. The role is simply wrong for him.
One night, Jack and his boss, Harry (Robert Forster), meet Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) at a bar to discuss business. At least, I’m reasonably sure that Harry is Jack’s boss. Jack also reports to Arlin (Alan Arkin) at the bank, though no titles are ever mentioned, not even in something expository but understandable, like, “I sure am glad you’re the president of this place.” In an absolutely pointless subplot that goes nowhere, Jack’s bank is also being acquired by a much larger one, and Gary (Robert Patrick) is in charge of security, or making the merger go smoothly, or something. Honestly, it’s hard to tell. Gary’s purpose is to keep an eye on Jack, which he could just as easily do if he worked for Jack. It’s just another example of Forte doing everything he can to kill a decent idea with a broad, unfocused screenplay.
During the meeting, a group of men breaks into Jack’s house and ties up Beth and the kids. After the meeting, as Jack is about to drive off, Cox hops in the back of Jack’s car and shows him pictures on his phone, emailed to him by the other bad guys, of Jack’s family bound and gagged. As you’d expect from a movie called Firewall (I would’ve gone with Spam Blocker, but whatever), technology plays an integral role, and cell-phone cameras are just the beginning. Dell and Windows also must have paid well to get their brands all over the place, and of course, Jack’s daughter’s iPod has a part in the heist. It all makes for a timely thriller, but hardly a timeless one; try imagining the lasting impact of a movie about smuggling drugs in an 8-track player and you’ll see what I mean.
Cox wants to use Jack, who designed the bank’s security software, to bypass any encryption or traps to rip off $100 million, or else Beth and the kids die. Cox and his team install cameras in Jack’s house and keep his family imprisoned, while Jack is sent to work the next day bugged with a mic and camera. Predictably, Jack tries to do things without his lapel camera seeing them, like type an e-mail while turned away from the computer, which of course doesn’t work, since Cox controls the machines.
Man. I’m boring myself all over again just writing this. Anyway.
Short version: Jack does the deal, Cox takes the family, and Jack sets out to get them back. Ford isn’t the action hero he once was, and at least Loncraine is wise enough to have Jack stumble every now and then or trip over a rock or two. But these supposed concessions to everyday humanity aren’t that believable when Jack’s still able to scale a wall to break into an apartment and beat a man to death with a blender before taking his gun. Jack’s still able to do more than any senior citizen on adrenaline and speed should be able to accomplish, including take on a small assault team armed with heavy weapons.
Loncraine shows only a minimal amount of skill when it comes to pumping any genuine thrills or tension into the film. The terror inherent in the original intrusion and kidnapping scene is completely overridden by the blustery, bombastic score from Alexandre Desplat. But the real winner here is Forte, a former advertising exec who shows all the flair for dialogue you’d expect from an overpaid copywriter. This is Forte’s first produced screenplay, and the roughness shows painfully through.
All in all, Firewall is a disappointingly straightforward thriller. I kept hoping, praying, for a double-cross, or twists, or anything to liven the story up, but no such luck. One supposed twist thrown out about halfway through turns out to be a red herring; no matter how much it would help the story, here the bad guys are bad and the good guys are good. Plain and simple. At the end, my mind reeled from the myriad story lines left to die: What happened with Gary, who suspected Jack of wrongdoing and chased him from the office? How did Jack’s name get cleared? What about the machine gun Jack stole and put in his trunk? What about the dead bodies all over town? Then again, I’m the kind of guy that thinks about things like that, which makes Firewall wrong for me in the first place.
Daniel Carlson is the L.A. critic for Pajiba and a copy editor for a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his weblog, Slowly Going Bald.
Firewall / Daniel Carlson
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()