Firewall (DVD)

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Firewall (DVD)

Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) is an average family man in Seattle who heads up the hi-tech security team at his local bank. But following a seemingly...

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64% positive

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Review of "Firewall (DVD)"

published 07/08/2006 | afy9mab
Member since : 11/07/2000
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All of my DVD reviews are film only, so do not include pricing information. If you have time, please read and rate my Batman V Superman review.
Good
Pro It's disposable entertainment
Cons Harrison Ford's too long in the tooth to play an action hero
very helpful
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"Hit the Road Jack"

Computer security specialist Jack Stansfield has an ideal life; a good job at a bank, a loving wife and happy kids. But his perfect world is blown apart when his identity is stolen. Then his family is taken hostage and he is forced to find a way to rob his employers, otherwise his wife and children will be killed.

I thought Richard Loncraine was an odd choice to helm this thriller, considering his last film was fluffy romantic comedy "Wimbledon". My reservations were justified by his handling of the subject matter. It amounts to no more than an action thriller by numbers. The Stansfields live a picture perfect upper middle class life that is rudely interrupted when their home is invaded. It is unclear why so many upwardly mobile families decide to live in utter isolation with so little decent security. You'd think they'd never seen a film before. Loncraine clearly believes that grainy digital footage of the family being watched makes the danger they are in more immediate for the audience, but it's an overused device. The problem of how to make computers exciting once again rears its head and I'm afraid a bit of surveillance style footage and some rapidly fired technical jargon doesn't cut it. Neither does the blatant product placement for Dell computers.

The real problem lies in how Loncraine shoots action. He has no idea what he's doing - the pacing is all to pot and he can't sustain tension. Cutting back and forth between Jack's initial meeting with Cox and the invasion of his home doesn't make sense because you have no idea who Cox is. There are half a dozen car chases that suffer from over-editing. For instance, Jack has to sneak up on his family's captors but the editing of him racing towards them in a knackered old car makes a mockery of the geography. One minute he's miles away and the next he's there. Some of the set pieces are so ludicrous they made me laugh. In one, a speeding car is shot at before hitting a bad guy, colliding with a house and bursting into flames for no apparent reason. Every minute of the hour-and-three-quarters running time feels like an 80s' action movie. From the ageing hero, his much younger wife and the big explosions there's nothing new or innovative here.

The screenplay by Joe Forte feels like a watered down version of one of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels. But the espionage featured is industrial rather than political; a heist rather than a terrorist plot. You can tell where the film is going as soon as Jack is made aware of the situation. He's yet another blue collar hero, but here he's fighting white collar crime. His family can't possibly die because they are so all-American. But they don't exactly give you anyone to root for. They seem content to wait out the siege while dad sorts everything out. The bad guys are carbon copies of any criminal band form a film of the last fifty years. There's the leader, the ex-military professional, the thug, the cannon fodder and the nerd. You can even predict which order they'll die in if you think about it. The problem with the script is that it is so convoluted. There's no good reason why the villains would go to the trouble of kidnapping a guy's family to make him comply with their demands when the company he's working for is in the throes of a corporate take-over. Surely there would be more than a few disgruntled workers willing to help? A lot of other things don't make sense; why all the pointless shilly-shallying to get into a friend's apartment when you could just walk up the stairs? And if you're going to kidnap a family, why take the family dog, unless of course it's a necessary plot device? And why has head of corporate security Jack a cushy corner office on the top floor, instead of a grubby little niche in the basement? The dialogue doesn't really work because it's peppered with hollow threats, staid assurances to the family and technical mumbo-jumbo. It feels as though no-one says anything of real worth. And you can spot the cheesy ending a mile off.

The film showcases some serious errors in casting. Harrison Ford is getting a bit long in the tooth to play action heroes as his performance here shows. As Jack Stanfield, he is only really convincing when he's mumbling grumpily and shuffling around in a suit. It's the weathered face and gnarly hands that do it. He looks out of puff when he starts running and never looks like he's going to be on the winning end of a fight. The most telling moment is when he's spying on the people that have kidnapped his family and he falls over while trying to stand up.

Paul Bettany is more than capable of sustained menace. If you don't believe me, just look at his performance in "Gangster Number One". But that doesn't explain his peculiar turn as kidnap gang leader Bill Cox. He's smooth and matter-of-fact but is too chummy with Stansfields to have a real aura of evil. His motivations seem somewhat muddy and you can never tell what he's thinking. I suppose the logic behind that is that it makes him more dangerous. But this level of inscrutability makes him too bland to be frightening, even when he's killing his own men or pistol-whipping people.

Oscar-nominee Virginia Madsen is short-changed by the script that reduces her to second-string woman in peril, leaving nothing but a vague impression of maternal warmth. Mary Lynn Royskub gets a better shake of the stick as Jack's faithful and irreverent secretary Janet. She's the most fun character and the actress clearly enjoys playing her. Little Jimmy Bennett is as irritating as usual as Stansfield sprog Andy. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau gives a very good American accent as hired thug Liam, but is otherwise playing a non-specific European bad guy. The biggest mystery is why the ever reliable Alan Arkin, Robert Patrick and Robert Forster are wasted on little more than cameos.

Alexandre Desplat's score takes itself far too seriously, over-egging the thriller pudding with his use of timpani and tense strings overlaid on alto brass. It's too big and loud for the film, treating it as an epic when it's really run-of-the-mill. There's too much detail with insistent percussion and string stabs pre-empting every violent episode and therefore undermining any surprises. The most effective piece of music is the initial use of Massive Attack's "Angel" - as unsettling a piece of brooding electronica as can be found.

"Firewall" is a silly but workmanlike thriller that will appeal if you don't want to have to engage your brain for the best part of two hours. It is riddled with plot holes and the performances are adequate, though far from spectacular. It feels like a throwback to the 1980s, complete with over-enthusiastic explosions. On the plus side, it is a bit of a laugh; as long as you don't take it seriously, you can let your brain cruise along in neutral.


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Comments on this review

  • nevaeh123xxx published 15/09/2006
    Great review, however, even if H F was 109 I'd still watch his films, old fans die hard!
  • Sturgie published 13/09/2006
    Hey, great reveiw. You just gave me a totally different outlook on this film and Harrison Ford. Thanks.
  • mattydalton published 09/08/2006
    I think I will give this one a miss too!!
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Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) is an average family man in Seattle who heads up the hi-tech security team at his local bank. But following a seemingly trivial case of identity theft, Jack's life is turned upside-down when he discovers that his wife (Virginia Madsen) and two kids have been kidnapped. The ransom? A mere 100 million dollars, which the kidnappers, led by Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), want Jack to obtain for them via his expert computer skills. Initially compliant, Jack is soon irked by Cox and his cronies to the point where he decides to get his family back and bring the bad guys to justice. British Director Richard Loncraine (WIMBLEDON) uses this basic premise to orchestrate a number of frantic set-pieces, while Ford concocts a character similar to his take on Dr. Richard Kimble in THE FUGITIVE. With a mouthful of computer jargon and nimble fingers that tumble frantically over a keyboard whenever he's in front of a computer, Ford's character is an unlikely action hero. Meanwhile, Bettany's bad guy gives subtly sinister instructions in his clipped British accent, Robert Forster (JACKIE BROWN) provides a likeable if underused ally for Ford, and Madsen slots neatly into her wife-in-peril role. As the film builds to an explosive climax Loncraine dumps the gadgets and carves out a delirious romp through action-movie conventions, ultimately infusing an old-fashioned story with a twist of 21st-century techno-fear.

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