Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cinema 2006: Firewall keeps out the entertainment

"Firewall" from 2006 opens with scenes of family bustle. Computer security chief Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) prepares for his morning commute to the bank. Inside his house, which balances atop a forlorn precipice overlooking the water in Seattle (but is in range of a pizza delivery guy), Jack, wife Beth (Virginia Madsen) and their two children are at breakfast.

Around the table, the multitasking siblings question each other's I.Q., apparently with unerring insight since neither kid has school for the rest of the week and should, according to all available data, be sleeping until noon. It is Hollywood's trite portrayal of American home life: wise parents indulge spoiled children in the first reel but just you wait, when faced with mortal danger the family bands together to defeat evil.

At the bank Stanfield has a supportive colleague played by Robert Forster and an understanding boss played by Alan Arkin. A merger is under way and Robert Patrick plays Stanfield's counterpart in the takeover company. Wow! What a great supporting cast! Alone the voices of these veteran actors are a joy. Unfortunately, the pros are not given many lines. Instead the filmmakers soon jettison this fantastic triumvirate of supporting players, to the great detriment of the movie.

As for the bad guys, they are a prosaic lot. Ringleader Cox (Paul Bettany) is suave and sociopathic. He has collected a coterie of cookie-cutter criminals, who despite a SWAT-team-type takeover of the family home, contribute little in the way of excitement or tension to the tale.

The villains are high-tech hustlers who outfit Stanfield with remote video and audio in order to track his every move at work, where they are coercing him to transfer massive bank funds to their off-shore account. But when complications thwart Plan A, the high-tech option is unceremoniously ditched in favor of old school: Cox simply shadows Stanfield, sort of a “bring your family’s kidnapper to work” day.

“Firewall” fails to live up to the promise of a high stakes computerized bank caper. The narrative actually pivots on a contraption worthy of McGiver and a "delete all" computer command.

As for Ford, the big star never becomes his character in "Firewall." His gruff, minimalist acting style does not convince. In ths film he seems to be replaying the same role from a number of earlier films.

Of course Stanfield eventually turns the tables on the bad guys and finally defeats them in a decidedly low-tech showdown, complete with disproportionate explosion. But the denouement occurs in a completely different setting, seemingly plucked at random, as if screenwriter Joe Forte was suffering from attention deficit syndrome.

The codex governing Hollywood's dispatching of villains dictates that the main bad guy dies last, horribly, and in such a way that he realizes real-time his own demise. By the end of "Firewall," Cox definitely knows he has "picked" the wrong guy to fraud with.

The family unit's post-trauma hug scene with sunset is embarrassingly cheesy

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