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Harrison Ford and Paul Bettany in Firewall
Reluctant bank robber Mr Ford wonders...
if he deserves a life behind bars

November 2006 SITE MAP   SEARCH

cast: Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany, Virginia Madsen, Robert Patrick, and Robert Forster

director: Richard Loncraine

102 minutes (12) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Warner DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
Jack Stanfield is a computer expert at the corporate executive level. Although his keyboard skills are visibly below average, we're expected to believe he's got more than enough techno savvy to teach pimply-faced office geeks a thing or two about network security. After family man Jack first meets financial 'entrepreneur' Cox (Paul Bettany), the airtight kidnapping plot of some ruthlessly ambitious conmen is revealed with agonising slowness (for viewers and fretful Jack), switching from banker's desktop to maintenance-free server racks (which impede a $100 million wire-transfer ransom), and calling for some MacGyver TV style, problem-solving improvisation by the psychologically tormented, increasingly desperate Jack. Has our mild-mannered hero really got enough tricks up his tailored sleeve to outwit a whole gang of home-invading baddies?

Few of Hollywood's current superstars can project sincerity or suffering with the same intensity as Harrison Ford. Not many hot blonde starlets win leading lady status like Virginia Madsen has. Unfortunately, neither Ford (nowadays, clearly of pensionable age), nor Ms Madsen (who plays Jack's wife Beth), is given much to do in this routinely plotted heist movie, in spite of all the hostage situation's obvious possibilities for nail-biting tensions and suspenseful drama.

Basically, Firewall is nothing more than a slickly formulaic update of Quentin Lawrence's modest noir thriller, Cash On Demand (1961), which starred Peter Cushing as a bank manager under pressure. Noted director Richard Loncraine (who helmed the classic Brimstone & Treacle, and the exceptional Richard III) also made the gritty TV mini-series Bellman And True (1987), in which Bernard Hill played a security expert coerced into helping with a robbery. Maybe it was the positively memorable experience of that, nearly 20-year-old British drama, which drew Loncraine to Firewall: that or simply the opportunity to work with Mr Ford. After the disappointing My House In Umbria, followed by the cheerlessly predictable Wimbledon (2004), it goes without saying that Loncraine was clearly in need of a commercial project. On paper, Firewall may well have looked very promising. But, hampered by its hopelessly conservative moral values, bereft of human energy, and straitjacketed throughout by a family-friendly '12' certificate, there's really no spark of life here to kick-start the engine of this presumptuous Die Hard variant. Even compared to the artless blend of the more recent Bruce Willis vehicle, Hostage, Firewall is weak liquor indeed.

Whatever happened to Harrison Ford? Following a string of great performances (in Blade Runner, Witness, Frantic, Patriot Games, and The Fugitive, etc) or at least worthwhile movies, his Hollywood career slumped (with The Devil's Own, Air Force One, What Lies Beneath, Hollywood Homicide, etc). In his prime, he was tinsel town's most bankable actor. Now, he's signed up with Spielberg for a fourth 'Indiana Jones' adventure. Is this a faded superstar desperately grasping for any lifeline to revive his glory days, or what?

Ford's best moment of acting here is when he's compelled to fire loyal secretary, Janet (stand-up comedienne Mary Lynn Rajskub; remember her as sulky Chloe in TV series 24?). Jack's most unintentionally funny line is: "I'm gonna find my dog." The least said about Jack and Beth's colourlessly ciphered kids, the better. Even while the Stanfields are trapped in their Seattle homestead, viewers aren't given sufficient cause for worry about this middle-class happy family, because in the construction of the film's unconvincing plot, they are never placed in serious jeopardy.

Hackneyed without being tedious, emotionally un-involving despite a top notch cast's middling efforts, transparently apprehensive when it comes to delivering user-unfriendly security-jargon exposition, lurching unambiguously towards its wearisomely conclusive finale, and just as unsurprising overall as the outcome of a showdown punch-up, between a politely spoken British villain and the stalwart American hero, could possibly be, all that can be said in favour of the wretchedly unexciting Firewall is that, with a brisk 100-minute runtime, it doesn't outstay its welcome.

DVD extras: Firewall Decoded is a laboriously programmed "conversation with Harrison Ford and Richard Loncraine"... and there's a mercifully short featurette about writing Firewall's screenplay by Joe Forte.

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