a critiQal film review Firewall (2006)

Plot: Bank security expert Jack Stanfield (Ford) is a master at designing infallible theft-proof financial computer systems. When a ruthless criminal mastermind (Bettany) kidnaps his family, Jack is forced to find a flaw in his system and steal $100 million. With the lives of his wife and children at stake and under constant surveillance, he has only hours to find a loophole in the thief’s own impenetrable system of subterfuge and false identities to beat him at his own game.

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  • ...while Ford is really showing his age in the action sequences, he is still able to ratchet up the tension quite nicely in his battle of wits against Bettany.

For quite awhile now, Heather and I have been wanting to check out Firewall, starring Harrison Ford and Paul Bettany. Thanks to our Summer At The Movies 2006, however, we haven’t been watching as many DVDs, and have fallen way behind. Finally, however, Firewall arrived at our doorstep (thanks to Blockbuster®), and we just had to sit down and check it out.

With Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) still in the works, would the aging Harrison Ford be able to still keep up in action flicks, or will Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) be painful to watch once it finally arrives? And could Paul Bettany, who’s career seems to be rapidly on the rise, pull off another success – or has he peaked already?

Harrison Ford is starting to show his age. The gray has come in, and he isn’t as sure of his actions as he used to be. In Firewall, he’s required to do a bit of physical acting and, while he still manages to make it through the scenes, he doesn’t have the smoothness he used to. He’s well-suited for the bank security expert role, but when the action comes along, he looks a bit lost.

Unlike fellow aging actor Sean Connery (who was rumored not to have accepted a role in The Matrix (1999) because he didn’t understand it), the new technology doesn’t seem to confuse him, and he easily pulls off the technological aspects of the role. His charm and charisma are still with him, but he doesn’t seem as sure of himself as he used to (which definitely doesn’t bode well for the brash and cocky Indiana Jones).

Paul Bettany, whose roles in A Knight’s Tale, A Beautiful Mind (2001) and even the lousy The Da Vinci Code (2006) have him seemingly destined for greatness, manages to pull of the villain role with similar ease. He’s a calm villain, slick, ruthless and hard to shake up – qualities that help him exude just a bit of extra evil on-screen. Whether he’s killing one of his own men because he let Jack out of his sight, or poisoning someone, he keeps that same cool exterior.

It’s definitely a good role for Bettany, and allows him to flex a little acting muscle, while reveling in the “bad guy” role. Not every actor can play both hero and villain (Harrison Ford being among them), but Bettany has the ability to switch between the two with ease. Keep an eye out for Bettany – with a couple of villain roles now under his belt, there’s no telling what he’s going to do next. Whatever it may be, it’s bound to be good.

Virginia Madsen (Candyman), Mary Lynn Rajskub (“24” (TV)), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown (1997)) and Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)) are the highlights of Firewall‘s impressive supporting cast. Mary Lynn, as usual, is the biggest standout, as she manages to take her persona from “24” (TV) and translate it well to Firewall. Her character is so similar, in fact, that for some scenes of the film, the viewer will be wondering if the girl from “24” (TV) works part time as Jack Stanfield’s secretary. It’s interesting – but it may also show how limited her acting career may be, if she’s already being typecast in that role.

Firewall is a film that latches onto a good scenario and runs with it. With the constant threat of what will happen to Jack’s family hanging over the viewers’ heads, it’s not surprising that the viewer is pulled in right from the start. Since it’s a Harrison Ford movie, the viewer knows right from the start he’s going to win in the end – but the question of how keeps them tuned in regardless.

Harrison Ford movies are at their best these days when the odds stacked against him triumphing seem impossibly overwhelming. The more going against him, the more the viewer is tuned into his every move, waiting to see how he gets out of this one. He’s the modern-day movie equivalent of Houdini – he always manages to pull off the seemingly impossible with a high level of believability.

In Firewall, the threat is intensely personal, and the viewer knows it’s going to eventually come down to Bettany vs. Ford one-on-one. Once that moment arrives, however, it’s a bit of a let-down, since Ford is really starting to show his age in action sequences.

That being said, Firewall does manage to build up a huge amount of tension over the course of it’s almost 2 hour length, and Ford, as usual, keeps the viewer tuned in right from the beginning. Bettany’s cooly evil villain is a good anti-Ford, and the two of them are able to play off each other quite well.

With it’s good supporting cast thrown into the mix, Firewall is definitely worth watching – but will probably get a little old after repeat viewings.

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