*½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras B-
starring Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany, Virginia Madsen, Mary Lynn Rajskub
screenplay by Joe Forte
directed by Richard Loncraine
by Walter Chaw Because 63-year-old Harrison Ford is pushing mandatory retirement age in most industries, his new movie Firewall is aimed squarely at an older, more affluent, less savvy demographic. Casting the aging demigod as a greying bank executive extorted by the usual band of eurotrash techno-terrorists holding his perfect family hostage, it's a fable of paranoia that finds evil in not only the modern cell phone bogey, but other mysterious beasts like iPods, phone cameras, GPS devices, fax machines, and online banking, too. Its never-explained title, in fact, refers to a technology that protects against malignant computer codes floating around the World Wide Web--but rather than try to define this for an audience that's ideally long-resistant to such cogent explanations, it makes the "firewall" a literal thing by devolving into another homeland security allegory, with the craggy paterfamilias meting out sweet vengeance against a gaggle of interlopers. Better to have called it "Antivirus"--but Michael Bay's probably reserved that title for his kick-ass foreign terrorist/avian flu metaphor.
Ford stars as one of his "Jacks" (not "Ryan," his Tom Clancy hero, nor "Trainer", his Working Girl persona, but rather a chimera of the two), Jack Stanfield, father of two (Carly Schroeder and Jimmy Bennett, the latter the same forlorn-looking kid terrorized to similar effect in Hostage and The Amityville Horror), husband of requisite clutcher/screamer Beth (Virginia Madsen). Jack is VP of Security at a mid-sized bank about to be taken over by a larger financial institution. He has a partner (Robert Forster), but that character is so mangled and misused as to function handily as an emergency brake, yanked whenever the movie threatens to develop some cheerful momentum. Mary Lynn Rajskub portrays the assistant to another Jack (after "Bauer" of Fox's "24"), Janet this time, and so when mousy Janet lends this Jack her laptop, there's a tiny, microscopic flash of po-mo hipness in an arthritic script by Joe Forte that otherwise plays like the stuffiest episode of "Frasier". Predictably (and much like the opening of The Clearing), Jack's idyllic life is one day interrupted by a band of high-tech bank robbers led by puffy Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), who spews the usual threats and ultimatums in the usual oily, continental fashion, moving one to fantasize about how slightly more interesting the film would've been had Ford played the bad guy, forced to retire without health care or a pension (like, say, dozens of veteran United Airlines pilots) and pushed to serious violent crimes against some young punk with a tech degree.
Alas, Firewall goes along its linear path with nary a thought of deviating from its ultimate destination: a mano-a-mano between the old grey lion and the young cub in a battle of wile and scrap. The rest is a strung-together series of none-too-disguised excuses for Jack to throw down in an insurance-company audition to get Ford covered for one more round as Indiana Jones. The potentially interesting bits (such as the suggestion that Jack is in a technological fishbowl at the mercy of his tormentors, or the Alan Arkin and Robert Forster cameos) are dropped as soon as humanly possible in a terminal case of missed opportunity. What's left is pretty frugal, indeed: a loosely-sketched, moronic master plot complete with a final slow-motion shot so saccharine and hilarious that it looks to be on loan from Ford's sometime-collaborator and child prince of the stupid ending Steven Spielberg. Firewall joins Ford's earring and Calista Flockhart as things he should've outgrown by now--and if you so desired, you could identify the movements of the picture as a retrogression from Air Force One to The Fugitive to Patriot Games. Call it a sad case of arrested development, though of course it's sacrilege to entertain such thoughts about Han Solo. That guy is awesome. Originally published: February 10, 2006.
by Bill Chambers Warner presents Firewall on DVD in widescreen, fullscreen, and combination HD/SD configurations; we received the standalone widescreen version for review. The 2.42:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer meets the requirements for/expectations of a contemporary mainstream studio release: the source print is in mint condition; colour and contrast are sturdy; and edge-enhancement is minimal. Having missed Firewall at the multiplex, I can't vouch for the fidelity of the disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio to the original soundmix, but I will say that what we get here is surprisingly hemispheric, with the surround channels seemingly reserved for atmospheric reinforcement. Stereo imaging is impressive, though, as is the quality of speech.
A light helping of bonus material begins with "Firewall Decoded: A Conversation with Harrison Ford and Richard Loncraine" (15 mins.), a lively dialogue between the film's star and director in which the two confess to having a rocky rapport on set and candidly discuss re-shoots. Ford looks like he wants to throttle the impish Loncraine a couple of times, first when Loncraine admits he doesn't share the actor's sense of scrutiny and again when he confesses to keeping Ford in the dark about a continuity gaffe during the final stages of post-production. All things considered, it's a pretty good substitute for a commentary track. Meanwhile, in "Firewall: Writing a Thriller" (3 mins.), screenwriter Joe Forte recaps his methods of researching the script--er, Method research of the script. Unfortunately, because he touches on some thorny topics (like Firewall's relationship to 9/11), the brevity of the piece makes him out to be kind of glib. A "Superman" promo reel and the trailer for Lady in the Water cue up on startup while Firewall's own trailer is accessible from the special features menu. Originally published: June 5, 2006.