Type-A Personality

Washington City Paper | February 10, 2006
There’s not one social issue explored in Firewall, unless you count embezzlement by iPod. Directed with maximum cliché by Richard Loncraine—the man responsible for 2004’s Wimbledon—and terribly written by Joe Forte, Firewall is an old-school, over-the-top thriller updated for the 21st century. Though the story involves such old standbys as a house by the lake and characters who demand, “I want to know what you want, and I want to know now!” it also includes a dog that comes equipped with GPS. And that iPod.

If anything good can be said about the film, it’s that it proves Harrison Ford really does still have a little Indiana Jones left in him. Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a computer-security specialist employed by a Seattle bank. He’s shown getting testy with, um, Someone (Terminator 2’s creepy Robert Patrick) at an important meeting. Then Jack’s day gets really bad: An American named Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) visits the office and demands Jack repay $95,000 in phantom gambling debt. Jack leaves work in an attempt to straighten out the apparent case of stolen identity, only to have a Brit named Bill Cox (yes, still Bettany) jump into the car and threaten him further. Soon, Jack’s home—ridiculously palatial even by thriller standards—is invaded by Cox’s toughs, who hold wife Beth (Virginia Madsen) and dopey kids Sarah (Carly Schroeder) and Andrew (Jimmy Bennett III) hostage.

Cox has been studying the family via surveillance—à la Caché, sorta—so he knows everything about it. He knows, for example, that Jack owns a gun, with which Our Hero gets whipped when he lies about it. (His kids’ whiny reaction: “I didn’t know he had a gun!” “They hit him so hard!”) Cox also knows that little mouth-breather Andy is allergic to peanuts. (Indiana Stanfield at breakfast the next day: “Don’t touch him, don’t talk to him, and don’t feed him anything!”) The e-mail Jack tries to send for help? The letters are deleted one by one soon after he types them. His cell phone is cloned. He’s outfitted with a camera pen and a wire to make sure he behaves. Even Jack’s watchers are watched.

What it all comes down to, for anyone who’s never seen a movie before, is that Cox wants Jack to rob the bank he protects. The fake gambling debt, after a long period of not being mentioned, gives Jack a motive. Everyone inexplicably ends up being in on it. And the less said about the crime/countercrime, the better. Furious typing and high-speed downloading just aren’t the same as masked men and good ol’ chases and fisticuffs, y’know? Though Ford and Bettany do get to have a go at each other—for a looong time—in the movie’s requisite last-chapter mano a mano.

To be generous, it’s not Firewall’s overall schematic that makes it ridiculous. Bettany and Ford make suave rivals, and the script even has some deliberately funny moments. But the little absurdities quickly pile up. The scary music when Cox offers Andy a cookie. The attempt to turn the family dog into a contemporary Benji, with Jack actually asking the hound where the bad guys have gone. And then there’s the family itself: The wifey and youngsters seem to exist only to be shown huddled together, looking scared in a most pathetic B-movie way. When Sarah whimpers to their captors, “Why do you hate us so much?” just try to resist the temptation to answer her.

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