THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Firewall stars Harrison Ford as Jack Stanfield, a bank security expert. He lives in a nice home that was designed by his architect wife Beth (Virginia Madsen). They have two children and a dog. One evening, a colleague introduces Jack to a potential client named Bill Cox (Paul Bettany). They have a drink together, casually discuss business, and say goodnight. Then Cox hops in the back of Jack’s car and announces that his crew has taken Beth and the kids hostage.

What they want is for Jack to bypass his own security system and transfer money from the bank’s richest clients into their offshore fund. Naturally, he doesn’t want to comply. The treat of violence being a great persuader, he ultimately meets the demand. But when Cox hedges on releasing the family, Jack decides to fight back by slowly pulling the money back out.

Firewall, like so many modern thrillers, is full of plot holes. For instance, the story stretches credibility to explain how Cox can keep the Stanfield family inside their own home for several days without having them escape. The explanation does not, however, take into account the fact that the local school might call to see where the children are, or Beth’s clients might wonder why she hasn’t checked in. Toward the end of the film, Jack must (for reasons I won’t reveal) drive around town accessing the internet on a laptop. Amazingly, he is able to find a wireless signal wherever he is – even when he’s in a rundown part of town. I don’t know about you but I have to look for places to use a Wi-Fi connection. There’s also an odd plot point that involves the family dog’s collar being used to help rescue the family. Is this realistic? I don’t know but it seems kind of goofy to have the fate of several human beings resting on a dog collar.

Although a lot of things don’t add up, Firewall is often able to overcome the flaw through sheer energy. This is also true of many thrillers these days. By keeping the action constant, we more or less forgive the movie its little inconsistencies. What counts is that we’re paying attention. Director Richard Loncraine (Wimbledon) keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and there are good performances from Paul Bettany (who makes a nicely suave villain) and Virginia Madsen, who transcends an essentially a thankless “wife role.”

That said, the thing that ultimately keeps the film from being recommendation-worthy, like similarly preposterous-but-enjoyable thrillers such as Flightplan or Red Eye, is Harrison Ford. While I have loads of respect for the man (I mean, he was Han Solo and Indiana Jones!), the actor gives a performance that he has given numerous times before. He tenses his facial muscles, he grits his teeth, he speaks to the bad guys in tense, threatening tones before delivering an old-fashioned butt kicking. This is a complete retread of the performance he gave in Air Force One, which also involved the kidnapping of his wife and child, and Patriot Games, where his character’s family was in danger at the end.

Not to make things personal, but Ford needs to shake his image up. He should take riskier parts instead of returning to the well over and over again. Some indie credibility would suit him nicely at this point in his career. Ford famously turned down the role of the drug czar in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic because the character was flawed rather than completely heroic. Michael Douglas, who is all too happy to play flawed characters, stepped in instead. Playing a righteous hero has suited Ford in the past, but he’s talented enough to play all kinds of roles. Firewall would have been much more interesting if Jack Stanfield had been allowed more than one dimension (a la Mel Gibson’s character in Ransom). Because we’ve seen Ford doing the nobility thing before, it feels as though he’s phoning this performance in this time.

What I’m getting at is not an attack on Harrison Ford, but rather a suggestion that, despite some fine points, Firewall feels like other movies we’ve seen starring the same actor. It has little to differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace. Compounding that problem is the ending, which leaves a lot of loose ends untied. A whole subplot is introduced involving a merger that creates tension between Jack and a bank official (Robert Patrick). Things between them reach critical mass, and there is a strong indication that Jack is in serious career trouble as a result. But the matter is abruptly dropped and never returned to.

This is a sign that Firewall only cares about having its hero provide a catharsis by beating the bad guys at their own game. There is undoubtedly some mindless moviegoing satisfaction in that, and the film is diverting enough to sit through. I just wish the whole thing hadn’t felt so completely, totally familiar.

( 1/2 out of four)

Firewall is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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