Firewall (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

February thrillers often get a bad rap, and deservedly so. Most of them are plodding retreads with little star power and less plot. So it's a surprise to see something as (relatively) well-crafted as Firewall showing up in theaters this month. The film appears better suited to early August. There's nothing ingenious or original about Richard Loncraine's picture, but it hits the necessary bases, generates a consistent level of tension, creates a group of detestable bad guys, and delivers a satisfying ending. All that adds up to a reasonable 105 minutes of harmless entertainment. If there's a problem with the movie, it's the miscasting of Harrison Ford who, at age 63, is too old to be doing all the physical stuff demanded of him by the part.

Firewall combines several tried-and-true plot elements: the good man forced to do a bad thing to save his loved ones, a frame-up, and a battle of wits between the smart villain and the smarter hero. For purposes of modernization, there's plenty of computer involvement, with the bank robbery being accomplished not by breaking into a vault, but by using computers to electronically re-route funds from one account to another. (As one character puts it, can it be considered a robbery if you can't really touch what's being stolen? Ask victims of identity theft that question.) On the technical side, most of what the film postulates sounds good, although computer geeks will be able to poke holes in it.

Ford plays Jack Stanfield, the head of security for a bank that's about to merge with a larger conglomerate. Jack takes his job seriously, and isn't happy that his new boss (Robert Patrick) has a more pragmatic but less security conscious view. Enter Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), a businessman who has a meeting with Jack then, after drinks, jumps in the back of Jack's car and points a loaded gun at his head. Bill has turned Jack's seaside Seattle mansion into a headquarters and kidnapped Jack's family - wife Beth (Virginia Madsen), daughter Sarah (Carly Schroeder), and son Andrew (Jimmy Bennett). For them to live, Jack has to facilitate the electronic robbery of $100 million from his bank. His only allies are an ex-law enforcement friend (Robert Forster) and his secretary, Janet (Mary Lynn Rajskub). As the theft nears fruition, Bill begins to lay the framework for Jack to take the fall not only for robbery but for other crimes as well.

Firewall belongs in the upper echelon of generic thrillers. These are movies that get us involved in the plot, have us rooting for the hero, then evaporate from the mind once the end credits are over. In short, it's a quick jolt of adrenaline with no hangover. Paul Bettany plays the villain role with the right amount of viciousness to make us want him to get his comeuppance. (The actors playing his henchmen are equally nasty.) Mary Lynn Rajskub is appealing as Jack's sidekick. (Rajskub plays a similar role to the one she has made her own in TV's 24, where she also helps a guy named Jack.) Virginia Madsen is fine in the thankless wife/mother role. As for Ford - he's okay playing the harried security chief, but when things get physical, the film threatens to go beyond where the average viewer can suspend disbelief. The role appears to have been written for someone 10 to 20 years younger, but Ford's star power overcame age concerns. So we have an improbable scene in which an AARP member goes toe-to-toe with someone about half his age, and holds his own. (I won't mention the 20 year age gap between Jack and Beth, because in real life, Ford is dating someone younger than Madsen.)

I have no idea why the movie is called Firewall, since there are no firewalls mentioned during the course of the narrative. Maybe the filmmakers thought it sounded cool. Director Richard Loncraine (who did a great version of Richard III with Ian McKellan and previously worked with Bettany in the underrated romantic comedy Wimbledon) directs with a competent hand. He generates enough suspense from the unremarkable screenplay to keep viewers involved. Firewall is flawed, but that didn't prevent me from enjoying it for what it is, nor will that prevent me from recommending it to those who enjoy a thriller with enough of the right ingredients to provide a couple hours of escapism.

Firewall (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2006-02-10
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1