The Theory of Chaos

Saturday, October 27, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Firewall

Originally published 2/14/06
Full review behind the jump

: Richard Loncraine
Writers: Joe Forte
Producers: Armyan Bernstein, Basil Iwanyk, Jonathan Shestack
Stars: Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany, Virginia Madsen, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Robert Patrick, Robert Forster, Alan Arkin, Carly Schroeder, Jimmy Bennett

I remember the first time that I saw Harrison Ford in a movie and thought he looked a little gray to still be running around clobbering evildoers. It was in the adaptation of Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger – 12 years ago. I didn’t fret this, I’ve long admired Ford as an actor of undervalued restraint and professionalism, and thought this would simply open new doors for him to shuffle off those leading man heroics and embrace more of the nuanced work of which he was capable. And there were teases of how interesting this new phase of his career could be, like his turn as a husband with a few secrets in What Lies Beneath.

But there were more bad choices than good, and now he’s 63, a year older than Clint Eastwood was when he depicted himself as too broken-down to properly mount a horse in Unforgiven. And Ford’s still throwing elbows. And while I would never claim I could take him in a fight, as a movie critic I can say that in Firewall, Father Time is a far more formidable opponent for Ford than the criminals he’s matched against.

He plays Jack Stanfield, a hard-working security systems designer for a small chain of banks in the Seattle area. He lives comfortably in what looks like the exact same Canadian luxury home that Elektra plotted an assassination from, but it can’t be because his architect wife Beth (Virginia Madsen) designed it. She had enough foresight to design a crawlspace that has an escape door in the garage, but didn’t think far enough ahead to move the tool shelf on top of that door so one could actually use it for a discreet escape.

They’ve got two photogenic children, the abrasive teen Sarah (Carly Schroeder) and the moony 8/9-year-old Andrew (Jimmy Bennett). This makes Stanfield a pretty late bloomer, I guess he spent too much time on the computer for the first 40 or 50 years of his life. But if the offspring were off in grad school, they wouldn’t be around for a cold-blooded kidnapper (Paul Bettany) to menace.

Our kidnapper, who uses “Bill Cox” as his chief alias, is a student of modern enterprise, he believes in outsourcing. What better way to steal $100 Million from a bank than to hold a gun on the security designer’s family and make him figure out how to do it? This simplifies things for Cox, who need only spy on Stanfield and keep his armed men stationed at the house, though it leads to an unintentionally hilarious moment where the hoodlums stock the fridge with Hungry Man Frozen Dinners and menacing music thrums away on the soundtrack.

And so we get a Digital Age fusion of the family-in-jeopardy movie with a heist movie, with Ford as the Father-of-the-Year in the middle of it. We’ve got GPS tracking devices and camera phones and other Web-compatible trappings, but it’s still got to be about How Do We Get the Money and How Do I Rescue My Family? So bronzed is Ford’s heroic image by now that his character has nary an inch of emotional growth coming to him, his trial is purely one of keeping his wits, surviving multiple crippling blows to the head, and having enough gas left in his tank for the final showdown. And I have to say, for those who enjoy protracted, meaty pummel-fests at the other end of the spectrum from those insufferably pretty Matrix knock-off slow-mo ballets, the climax is a pip.

I think it’s the direction by Richard Loncraine, the British film/television craftsman who brought Ian McKellen’s Richard III to the screen, that is primarily responsible for the steady competence and momentum. Though the story has motions to go through and dutifully goes through them, there’s splashes of color that hint at a man looking through the camera and not wanting to see something totally generic. Like the very Seattle-specific apartment building where Jack’s secretary (Mary Lynn Rajskub) lives, or the nearly-invisible moment where Jack throws away an incriminating iPod, then reconsiders and reaches back into the trash for it, because he promised his daughter he’d return it. And the script by Joe Forte lets Bill Cox be something more interesting than the stock omnipotent mastermind, but someone who screws up, loses his cool, and is actively thinking ahead to stay on top of a plan that’s coming apart around him. It makes the cruelty he decides he must show much more chilling.

All of this is not enough, though, to shake the fatigue off the movie, because Ford is the center of the action. He does what is asked of him and is never less than believably distraught or determined or whatever else. But it’s his body and face that he can’t act his way out of. And they show a man who is over the hill and has Done This Before. Too many times.


Post a Comment

<< Home