Dir: Richard Loncraine. US. 2005. 100mins.
Though it boasts a rare star turn by Harrison Fordand a strong supporting cast, Firewallis a kidnap thriller that's driven more by its high tech gadgets than by itsunder-pressure characters. Ford's presence, the story's family theme and theappeal to digital age paranoia could help the film, steered by director RichardLoncraine, find an older-skewing yet still fairlybroad initial audience. But distributors Warner Bros and Village Roadshow will struggle to keep interest in this far-fetchedyarn up for very long.
Warner opens the film inNorth America this weekend, against competition from several other widereleases. The studio will be hoping that pent-up demand from Ford fans isstrong enough to at least get Firewallon track to beat the disappointing totals of the star's previous two outings,2003's Hollywood Homicide (whichgrossed $30.9m domestically) and 2002'sK-19: The Widowmaker (which managed $35.2m).
In international markets,Warner and (in selected territories) Roadshow might,by avoiding competition, do somewhat better. The growing reputation of Ford'sco-star Paul Bettany could help in the UK and someother territories.
The rain-soaked Seattlesetting creates a moody tone as Ford's Jack Stanfield goes about his businessas head of network security at a regional bank that is being taken over by abigger company. Jack is an expert at keeping cyber intruders out of the bank'scomputer systems; what he doesn't realise, though, is that smooth villain BillCox (Bettany) has been quietly infiltrating the Stanfields' family life to prepare for a daring crime.
When Cox's men invade thefamily's lakefront house and take Beth Stanfield (Madsen, from Sideways) and her two kidshostage, Jack is forced to find a breach in his own security system so that hecan siphon $100m into the kidnapper's offshore account.
Early on, Loncraine (who most recently made romantic comedy Wimbledon) starts to build up a Hitchockian sense of mystery, and there are some moments ofreal menace as the home invasion begins. Before long, however, the script byJoe Forte (his first to be produced) starts revealing very obvious flaws in thecriminals' plan and turning them into fairly inconsequential plot diversions.
The tension is a little morepalpable when the action shifts to the bank and Jack, with Cox at his shoulder,tries to break into the computer system under the noses of his confusedassistant (Rajskub, from TV's 24) and the bank's new security chief (Patrick). The action opensout when Jack finds a gap in the criminals' plan and Cox is forced to go on therun with the hostages.
What the film consistentlyfails to do is take much interest in its characters or give them arcs thatmight help drive the plot. Jack develops a little edge as the story goes on,but Beth and Cox remain one-dimensional throughout.
Instead, the plot is drivenby the capabilities of a parade of gadgets, from cell phones and laptops(Windows XP software is the film's product placement star) to fax machines (orat least bits of them) and GPS tracking devices.
Ford (who has had a fairlylow profile since 2000's What LiesBeneath) certainly adds to the film's appeal with his familiar blend ofsteeliness and warmth. And he looks pretty credible in the story's climacticslugging match with Cox.
Bettany (known to US audiences for Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World but who mostrecently co-starred in Loncraine's Wimbledon) is suitably nasty; but likeMadsen, Robert Forster (as Jack's longtime colleague)and Alan Arkin (as Jack's old boss) he is largelywasted in an undeveloped role.
Warner Bros Pictures
Village Roadshow Pictures
Warner Bros/Village Roadshow (selected)
Mary Lynn Rajskub