A loose, albeit unintentional, retread of 2005's "Hostage
"minus that picture's high style and character nuances"Firewall" is but a tepid slog through overly familiar situations and far-fetched story turns. Slow-going in the first half, which sets itself up to fool the viewer into thinking it is more complex than it really is, the thriller aspects hit a more comfortable stride in the last act. Alas, it's nothing that hasn't been seen countless times before, and with a far greater impact.
Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) is a top-level security executive at a Seattle-based bank headquarters whose architect wife, Beth (Virginia Madsen), and two children, 14-year-old Sarah (Carly Schroeder) and 8-year-old Andrew (Jimmy Bennett), are attacked at their home and held hostage. The main perpetrator is Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), who has secretly finagled his way into Jack's life and the company's computer systems with the goal of running off with tens of millions of dollars. Of course, with Jack forced into doing his bidding, it will be himnot Billthat will appear to be the embezzling culprit. Knowing full well that no matter what he does it will end with the deaths of himself, his wife and his children, Jack wastes little time in fighting back.
Harrison Ford (2003's "Hollywood Homicide
") could play this type of role in his sleepthat of an ordinary man willing to risk everything in order to save his familybut he still appears healthy and nimble enough at age sixty-three to make his physical stunts plausible. Alas, the same can't be said for the rickety plot that relies so heavily on coincidences and plot devices (i.e. a child's allergy, a dog who turns out to be Jack's savior just when he's lost hope) to render itself patently ridiculous by the denouement. Ford's Jack Stanfield, who starts off as a more soft-spoken, mild character than the actor usually plays, quickly segues into becoming a close copy of his defiant, heroic Jack Ryan character from 1992's "Patriot Games" and 1994's "Clear and Present Danger." By the time he is being thrown out windows, wielding pickaxes, and climbing across buildings, "Firewall" admittedly has become more fast-paced and involving. At the same time, all of this comes off as desperation on the parts of director Richard Loncraine (2004's "Wimbledon
") and screenwriter Joe Forte, who trade a chance to be inventive for formulaic explosions and fights to the death.
If there is a plot thread that differentiates itself from other family-in-peril movies, it is the idea that the bad guys have hacked into the protagonist's computers and put him on a surveillance that makes it virtually impossible for him to do anything but what they demand. Like the rest of the film, though, Jack's ultimate use of the computers he knows so well to work against Bill and his cronies is weakly conceived and not very informative to how he achieves what he does. All the while, Jack gets further and further into hot water with the company and the authoritiesdetails which are tidily forgotten about by the end.
If Jack's mission of working toward saving his family grew to mean something to the viewer, the alternately strained and murky plotting could have been overlooked to a degree. Unfortunately, no stock is put into any of their fates because they never grow into real people. Jack says barely two words throughout to his children, his relationship with them remaining a translucent means to an end, while all threeBeth, Sarah and Andreware dull creations without defined personalities.
It's nice to see Virginia Madsen working within the big studio system again after her much-lauded turn in 2004's "Sideways
," but her supporting role as wife Beth is thankless. The same goes for Carly Schroeder (brilliant in 2004's "Mean Creek
") as daughter Sarah; Jimmy Bennett (2005's "Hostage
" and "The Amityville Horror
"), officially the most consistently put-upon and terrorized child actor working today as son Andrew; and Paul Bettany (2004's "Dogville
"), slimy but glaringly one-dimensional as lead villain Bill Cox. It's up to the invaluable Mary Lynn Rajskub (2005's "Mysterious Skin
," TV's "24"), then, to inject much-needed life and heart into the standard proceedings as Jack's faithful assistant, Janet. Rajskub does wonders with a part that in lesser hands could have been forgettable; her presence is akin to a breath of fresh air.
Outside of the occasional thrill or moment of carefully modulated tautness, as when Jack's family makes a valiant attempt to escape their sprawling cliffside home without being caught, "Firewall" follows an oft-taken path through undistinguished scripting drearier than its rain-swept Seattle setting and more improbable than snowfall in August. If this was the most worthwhile, creatively viable project Harrison Ford could find after a three-year acting hiatus, he would have been wise to keep looking.