Careless Growly Whisper
Hello again, everyone and welcome to another edition of the film review column you really shouldn't get your hopes up about. This week we take a look at a thriller with aspirations to be Hitchcockian, but which instead comes perilously close to falling several syllables short of that ambition.
Ah, when I was a lad, Harrison Ford was probably the biggest movie star on the planet, battling evil and standing up for the decent thing to do, all the while using that funny hoarse-but-rumbly voice he's got. He still is a big star, of course, but — to paraphrase Norma Desmond — of late the pictures he's in have become smaller. So it is with Firewall, a rather conventional thriller directed by Richard Loncraine and apparently a bit of a remake of a TV series he made back in the 1980s. Here, our erstwhile megastar plays Jack Stanfield, the head of computer security at a small but prosperous bank. (Making the audience accept that the now-slightly-wizened Harrison Ford is actually a computer programming whiz is but the first of several knotty credibility problems the movie is forced to navigate.) Jack has a palatial house, a lovely view of Seattle from his office window, a beautiful — and obviously much younger — wife (Virginia Madsen, who in her own way is equally a movie veteran, but less wizened), two cute and fairly well-behaved kids, etc, so you just know he's in for a hard time in the rest of the movie.
Well, after a tough day fending off the hackers and standing up for the integrity of his bank against the corporate slimeballs who want to merge with it (key amongst them Robert Patrick, who's only a bit wizened), Jack is talked into having a quick drink with a young and thrusting all-American entrepreneur, Bill (the ever-watchable Paul Bettany, not wizened at all). But no sooner does Jack excuse himself so he can shoot off home for Pizza Night with the family (all say 'Aaaah' and/or copiously vomit), than Bill casts aside his American accent and reveals himself to be British — and as we all know, British people in this kind of movie are always callous, brilliant and occasionally slightly gay evil geniuses! So it proves, for Bill is a bank robber whose lunkheaded fratboy henchmen have kidnapped Jack's wife, kids and dog and turned their lovely mansion into the Big Brother house! Bank robber, bank manager — I'm sure our founder would appreciate how wonderfully their two jobs dovetail. Bill's plan is fairly simple: he's going to hold Jack's nearest and dearest hostage until Jack lets him into the server room at the bank so he can download all the money. But Jack, being played by Harrison Ford, didn't get where he is today by taking any nonsense off uppity Brits and eventually the moment comes when he whirls ferociously into action against his tormentors. Although there is of course a limit to the amount of ferocious whirling that can reasonably be expected from a 64-year-old bank manager.
Now, you may very well be asking yourself the following question: beyond the fact that it's a snappy and techno-literate-sounding name, what reason can there be for calling this film Firewall, given that the robbery in it still revolves around the bad guys physically sneaking into the bank? And the answer consists of two words, the second of which is 'all', and the first of which we have all had surgically excised from our brains, being the conscientious h2g2 habitues that we are (well, you've a number of options, but they're all equally likely to deprave, so purge the lot of them). The fact is that Firewall is incredibly desperate to show how modern and zeitgeisty it is, which is why the plot revolves around (to name but a few) identity theft, online gambling, camera phones, iPods and GPS tracking. This is a largely futile attempt to conceal how incredibly old and hackneyed this particular story is, not to mention silly and predictable (well, to some extent — I was slightly startled when, after Harrison Ford attempted to escape roughly fifty-seven times in the first day of their acquaintance, Paul Bettany's response was to start shooting members of his own gang, although this may explain why he hasn't got further in the bank robbery line).
Of course, Harrison Ford looks fairly old and hackneyed himself these days, as I believe I may already have mentioned. He is in fact probably a bit too old to be doing this sort of thing: towards the end, where a younger actor would be doing a flat-out sprint, Ford restricts himself to a moderate trot. This is before we even get to the concluding bout of fisticuffs. But for all this, he still has presence and charisma — star quality, in fact. It's only Ford that keeps this from being a totally forgettable and routine straight-to-video thriller. There are signs that it could have been more: there's a very effective segment where Ford is on the run from his former colleagues and the police, having been neatly framed for all sorts of rum doings, and he desperately has to avoid them while simultaneously hunting down Bettany and his gang. But this is only a short section very near the end of the film, rather too little too late. Also quietly effective is Mary Lynn Rajskub (even less wizened than Bettany) as Ford's much-put-upon secretary, who has nearly as bad a time as him in the film but doesn't get to growl about it as much.
Firewall is not actually a bad film, it's just tremendously average and predictable. It's interesting that it should be in UK theatres at the same time as Inside Man, another film concerning a rather unorthodox bank robbery. The two films are of course different in almost every way, but it's the unrepentantly retro and traditional Inside Man which is by far the superior piece of work, while the achingly contemporary Firewall very definitely gets the second prize. But it's watchable, and I suppose it'll keep Ford in shape in case two-fisted archaeology ever comes back into vogue...