Seattle, Washington. Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) has the near-perfect life, an attractive, smart wife, Beth (Virginia Madsen), two children, Andrew (Jimmy Bennett), a pre-pubescent with an allergy problem, and Sarah (Carly Schroeder), a rebellious teen. Jack and his family live in an impossibly large, seaside house designed by his architect life. Professionally, Jack works as the Chief of Network Security for the Seattle-based Landrock Pacific Bank. Landrock has been just acquired by a national bank, Accuwest. Accuwest has sent Gary Mitchell (Robert Patrick) to oversee the merger between the two banks. Jack is the odd man out. Jack's situation worsens when he discovers that someone has stolen his identity and rung up $95,000 in debts at an online gambling site.
Jack's professional and personal problems, however, immediately go from bad to catastrophic when Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), a master criminal masquerading as a businessman, enters his life. Bill and his four-man crew have kidnapped Jack's family. In exchange for Jack's help with stealing $100 million from the bank, Bill promises to spare Jack's family. Given their ruthlessness (not to mention the obvious fact that Bill and his men have made no effort to hide their identity), Jack suspects the worst, but with the power balance favoring Bill and his men, Jack has little choice except to comply. Eager to keep Jack under control, Bill wires Jack with an audio receiver (they can hear everything he says) and a pen camera. They also outfit Jack's house with surveillance cameras, the better to keep track of Jack's family.
Bill's plan involves Jack obtaining access to the bank's presumably impenetrable computer system and transferring funds into an offshore account. If Bill succeeds, however, Jack and his family aren't likely to survive. Jack the family man and professional must turn into Jack the action hero, using his wits, improvisational abilities, element of surprise, physical prowess, and luck, to save his family from Bill and his crew. By the third act, Firewall has moved from a tight, two-setting, claustrophobic thriller (e.g., home and office) to all-too-familiar Fugitive territory, with Jack separated from his family, connected to a murder, and on the run.
That Firewall ends with the obligatory hand-to-hand combat between the hero and the villain (in a setting that allows much breakage of wood, plastic, and glass), should come as no surprise. In fact, Firewall holds few surprises, hitting all the action beats and plot reversals found in any generic suspense thriller. Kid with a life-threatening allergy that will, at some point, be used against him? Check. A super-smart, blue-eyed, ruthless villain with a decadently British accent? Check. Colorless, indistinguishable, therefore disposable, henchmen? Check. Computer-hacker henchman with the faintest glimmer of a conscience? Check. Character actors in underwritten roles? Check. Implausibilities piled on top of improbabilities piled on top of implausibilities? Check, check, and check. Harrison Ford in tight-clenched, furrowed-brow mode? One, last, check (before, hopefully, this rhetorical device gets tiresome).
The preceding comments, however, may sound unduly harsh or critical. It shouldn't. With Ford in his early sixties, his retirement from action-hero roles is all but assured, leaving nostalgic fans to savor his few remaining roles in the genre, even when the result is as predictably unexceptional as Firewall. Ford, though, has kept himself physically fit (Grecian formula also helps), and whatever Firewall shortcomings, he brings his trademark, furrowed brow intensity and staccato line deliveries to the generic role. Harrison Ford was, is, and continues to be, a true professional. Whatever the demands of a role, Ford has brought a measure of integrity and dignity to them (with one or two credibility-straining exceptions).
Ultimately, Firewall is what it is, a standard suspense/thriller starring one of the best practioners of the form, Harrison Ford, with supporting turns by seasoned pros (e.g., Robert Forster, Robert Patrick, and Virginia Madsen) and competent, if uninspired, direction by Richard Loncraine (Richard III), and written by Joe Forte with a minimum of inventiveness and a maximum of superficial topicality (e.g., fears and anxieties about identity theft). Despite their best (ok, that might be a stretch) efforts, Firewall isn't particularly memorable, just a semi-entertaining, escapist diversion from everyday reality (and really, what's wrong with that?). Can we, or should we, begrudge Harrison Ford one of his (presumably) last roles as an All-American action hero? No, not at all. And, credit where credit is due, any film that lifts a track wholesale (sans vocals) from Massive Attack's 1998 "Mezzanine" album for its opening credit sequence can't be all bad, now can it? You in the back, yes, yes we know itís almost a decade out of date.
© Mel Valentin, 9th February, 2006
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