February 13, 2006

Movie Review: Firewall

Today I trekked out in the tail end of a blizzard to see the latest Harrison Ford thriller, Firewall. Ford has had his share of winners and sinners, but overall they always tend to be enjoyable on some level. The question is, are in Hollywood Homicide territory, or maybe closer to The Fugitive? The answer lands somewhere in the muddy ground in between.

This movie centers itself with a complex plot to rob a bank. Harrison Ford is Jack Stanfield, the designer and head of security for a small bank chain that is going through a merger. It isn't quite clear, but it seems that Jack may be able to get in on a deal that would see him leaving the bank. This brings in Bill Cox, portrayed by Paul Bettany. This man insinuates himself into the lives of the entire Stansfield family. He uses the usual "help me or your family dies" threat to attempt to induce a favorable outcome.

Firewall doesn't venture into any new ground. The end result is a rather standard thriller that survives on the ability of its leads, because if you start trying to analyze the plot, it tends to break down rather easily. One thing that bugged me, and it is really not that big of a deal, is the title. There is no firewall hacking or anything of the sort. The way they go about robbing the bank is nothing special, no real technical expertise is needed, just a little cleverness on all the parties involved.

The heist takes a back seat for most of the movie, instead its eye of focus is set squarely on our hero and his attempts to secure his family's safe return. many of these scenes seem like filler, not adding to the tension, nor giving us characters to really care about. How well do we get to know the wife and children? Granted, we never want to see innocent people hurt in anyway, but I like to have a reason to care about the characters in a fictional work. And don't get me started on what I like to find out at the end. I'm not going to give it away, but I didn't particularly care for it.

There is an overall sense of deja vu. I feel like I've seen this movie before, and better. When I had seen the early trailers, I was hoping for a good film about identity theft that escalates to the bank robbery, but there is only minimal time spent on that aspect. It doesn't take long before we are thrust into a movie that reminds me of last year's Hostage, only not as interesting.

I'd like to believe that there are very few actors could make this material compelling, when there are probably a few. Fortunately Harrison Ford is at the top of the list. He has a great screen presence, and has perfected the man in peril role. It is this reason that I enjoyed this at all. Ford brings a feeling of immediacy to the role, a growing determination and sheer will to do what he has to do. Even in the face of the absurd, he is there to counter every turn.

On the flip side of our hero is Paul Bettany, whom I am glad to see getting more prominent roles, as he is becoming a very good character actor. He brings a quiet menace to is role, someone who revels in being in control, and when that is lost, he is lost. Then there is Virginia Madsen, a good actress to be sure, who just is not given much to do in this script. She is the typical wife character who is there waiting to be rescued.

Rounding out the supporting cast are brief appearances from Alan Arkin and Robert Forster. I would be remiss if I failed to mention Mary Lynn Rajskub as Janet. She plays a pivotal role in helping Ford on his quest. She is playing virtually the same character as she does on 24, and it worked well for her here in her first prominent film role.

The film was directed by Richard Loncraine, who last directed 2003's romantic comedy Wimbledon, which also starred Paul Bettany. He has a steady hand behind the camera, but there is nothing that strays from the ordinary. Which can be used to describe the film.

Bottomline. While it was superficially enjoyable, that is the only level on which to enjoy it. It doesn't hold up if you watch it for an interesting plot. Not to say I hated it, as Ford always gives enjoyable performances, and this was no different. An entertaining diversion, nothing more.

Mildly Recommended. **.5 / *****


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