Are there any Harrison Ford fans still out there? It has been three years since his last film, and six years since any of his movies was a hit—and in that particular film, the ghost story What Lies Beneath, he played second banana to Michelle Pfeiffer. So there is an air of desperation about Firewall, a sense that Ford needed to make this movie just to keep his face in the public eye, lest we think he had fallen off the planet altogether.
It is significant that Ford's first movie in years is not one of those serious dramas or offbeat comedies that he used to make whenever he wanted to prove that there was more to him than stunts and action sequences. Instead, Firewall is a back-to-the-basics thriller that echoes several of Ford's better-known films, such as Patriot Games and Air Force One. Once again, bad guys threaten his wife and children, and he does all the growling and punching that it takes to keep his family safe. The climactic fight scenes, which feature imperiled children and take place in an isolated locale, are reminiscent of Witness; and there are even elements of The Fugitive. But by bringing those other films to mind, Firewall underscores its own weaknesses; it simply lacks the firepower, the iconic status, the cultural subtext and the engaging supporting actors that made Ford's other suspense flicks so much fun.
The basic set-up is as potboiler as it gets. Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a security-systems specialist whose home is invaded—and whose family is taken hostage—by a team of armed criminals intent on coercing Jack into helping them steal millions of dollars. (Jack's son is even played by Jimmy Bennett, who had almost the exact same role in last year's Hostage.) At first, everything seems to be going methodically according to the villains' plan; every time Jack puts up the least bit of resistance, it turns out the bad guys have anticipated him, even to the point of deleting his e-mail as he tries to write it. But then, their plan hits a snag. It turns out Jack's bank is on the verge of merging with a much larger entity, and the hardware necessary to carry out the heist is no longer there in the building. For the first time, Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), the leader of the bad guys, seems unsure of what to do; so he orders Jack to come up with a plan of his own, or else his wife and children will die.
None of this is particularly believable, of course. Ford, at 63, is a bit old for a computer whiz with two young children (their mother is played by the 42-year-old Virginia Madsen), and you get the feeling he is a tad self-conscious about this, hence the various scenes in which Jack demonstrates his knowledge of hacker jargon and impresses his younger co-workers, and even the younger villains, with his computer skills. The script, by Joe Forte, makes fitful efforts to give the bad guys some dimension, especially when the Stanfields try to persuade Bill's underlings to turn against him, but it doesn't work; we have no idea who these guys are or why they work for Bill, and they are never more than human plot devices.
Plus, things get particularly unbelievable in the film's third act. Laymen like me, who are only semi-literate in the ways of computers, might be inclined to sit back and accept, just for the sake of argument, that everything Bill and Jack do in the bank's offices is electronically feasible. But there's something patently absurd about driving all night into the middle of nowhere while making use of a laptop and a cell phone that apparently have an endless power supply and an ability to pick up wireless connections from miles away. And then you have to ask yourself whether a bunch of murderous villains would tolerate the Stanfield family's yapping, bothersome dog anywhere near as long as they do.
Christian audience members might take note, however, of the fact that one of the key minor characters, a young co-worker of Jack's named Bobby (Matthew Currie Holmes), is a born-again Christian who flirts amiably with Jack's secretary (Mary Lynn Rajskub), plays guitar in a worship band and has "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" as a ring-tone on his cell phone. He's a caricature, perhaps, but a friendly one; and between this and the "Jesus rocks!" neighbors from Mr. and Mrs. Smith, it would seem that evangelical Christians are on their way to becoming the quirky sidekicks that gay characters have been for years.
The film isn't a complete write-off. Directed by Richard Loncraine (Richard III, Wimbledon), the film has some good, suspenseful moments, and the characters are admirably clever once in a while. But there's just not a whole lot to get excited about here.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- What would you do in a situation like Jack's? Would you try to resolve it on your own? Would you fight back, even if it meant killing someone? Does turning the other cheek apply here?
- Bill Cox says he is taking "virtual money," not hard currency, and asks, "Tell me, how can it be stealing if you can't even touch it?" How would you answer him?
- What do you make of Bobby, the born-again character? Is he a caricature? If he is, is that a good or bad thing, or is it neutral? What about his efforts to get a date with a non-Christian co-worker? Do you think his co-workers respect his faith, look down on it, or neither?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Firewall is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence, including some fatal gunshots, some fatal blows to the head with a blender, a fatal encounter with a pickaxe, and a fatal explosion. There are also a dozen or more instances of profanity, roughly half of the four-letter-word variety and half of the taking-Jesus'-name-in-vain variety.
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What Other Critics Are Sayingcompiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 02/16/06
"Don't you threaten my family, or I'll get angry. And you don't want to see me angry."
That's not a quote from Firewall, but it may as well be. Richard Loncraine's by-the-numbers thriller casts Harrison Ford as yet another character who furrows his brow and defends his wife and kids against villains.
If that quote did come from Ford, though, he'd only be half right. Bad guys don't want to see him angry, but audiences certainly do. And Ford obliges them once again with his typically gruff performance, this time as a computer security expert for a Seattle bank.
But there's a problem. In most of Ford's previous action flicks, he was working from an admirable script. Here, according to Christian film critics, the screenplay careens between the familiar and the ridiculous, and Ford, playing husband to Virginia Madsen and father to two youngsters, is reaching the point where he could play a convincing grandfather. (USA Today's Claudia Puig says Ford is running the risk of becoming "as a caricature of his younger self.")
Christian Hamaker (Crosswalk) says, "Firewall goes from the formulaic to the preposterous before limping to a violent but predictable conclusion. … Just when you suspect the film has bottomed out, the filmmakers bring back the family dog for an absurd plot development, and put the asthmatic son in jeopardy once more. Cue the car chase and massive explosion, and, of course, a big fight between Jack and his tormentor, Cox. The only remaining question is just how grisly that encounter will be. The end result is disturbing, feeding the audience's desire for justice by providing a visceral, ugly payoff."
Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) says viewers will find this all very familiar. "[The movie] comes complete with a cold-blooded, suave Euro-baddie, a dim-witted, short-fused baddie and, of course, the 'sensitive' baddie whose downfall is his sympathy for his captives. In other words, this is not Syriana." Still, Yoars admits he enjoyed the outcome—but not "the foul language—particularly misuses of the Lord's name—and instances of too-graphic violence."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) seems happy with the film, calling it "solid suspense … Loncraine sustains a white-knuckle pace throughout." And in spite of implausibilities that other critics have noted, Forbes says "Ford makes you believe his plight all the way."
Mainstream critics have no trouble breaking down this Firewall.from Film Forum, 02/23/06
Andrew Coffin (World) says, "The film does an adequate job of building suspense out of mini-crises … . But any goodwill these scenes build up quickly dissipates in a ludicrous finale that offers up huge plot holes while systematically checking off apparently essential thriller clichés (huge, uncalled-for explosions, etc.). There's been much talk about Mr. Ford's age, as though a 64-year-old actor is too old to star in an action film. The problem with Firewall, though, is the plot's worn-out maturity, not Mr. Ford's."
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