Firewall (2006)

“Harmless” is a word often used by film critics to describe a movie that is definitely not great, but it’s not bad enough to be a complete waste of time. If you need to kill a couple of hours, a “harmless” film will do the job just fine, if you have nothing else to watch, of course. Firewall is one such harmless film. You’ve seen pretty much everything in this film before, and it’s not really any good, but it’s not terrible enough to be placed in many “worst of” lists.

Firewall stars Harrison Ford as Jack Stanfield, the head of security at some big Seattle bank. He’s married to Beth (Virginia Madsen), and together the couple has two children, Sarah (Carly Schroeder) and Andy (Jimmy Bennett). The reason to mention his family is that, soon enough, they’re going to be put into danger. One day, “pizza night,” burglars break into Jack’s house, capture his family, and start making demands. Jack needs to figure out a way to steal from the bank for whom he works, and if he fully cooperates, he and his family will be let go without any harm done.

Does full cooperation ever happen in this type of film? I can’t think of one where the hero goes “Yeah, okay,” and then he and the villain are friends until the end. He’s always looking for a way out, for a small slip — something to gain an advantage and free his family. Of course, these attempts rarely work out. We need our big, risky heist at the end. That’s always how these work, and it’s one of the only things we can be sure of in this type of thriller. It’s asking too much for Firewall to work against convention.

The bad guy is played by Paul Bettany, because putting someone with an English accent against our all-American family means that we will never have trouble telling good guy from villain, I guess. IT doesn’t really matter, as Bettany’s character leaves most of the dirty work to his lackeys, most of whom don’t actually seem to care that much about this heist. That could have actually factored in at some point, but it never does because that might be interesting.

We go through the exact plot points that you’d expect from a movie like this one. Multiple failed escape or reasoning attempts all lead up to the heist at the end. There are a couple of twists, none of which will surprise anyone who has seen a movie in their lifetime, and everything is wrapped up way too quickly. Actually, at about the 80 minute mark I would have sworn we were right about at Firewall‘s climax, but then it goes on for another twenty minutes. Despite this, it still concludes too fast. It tacks on an additional location and winds up dragging itself out for too long to make this decision worthwhile.

Does the film hold up after closer inspection? Probably not, but this isn’t the type of film that inspires in-depth discussion. I don’t know if an .mp3 file is equal to the same amount of data that a bank number and password has, or if an iPod could take that data off a computer as easily as it does in the film, but that’s kind of the fun, isn’t it? You see some creative ways to get the problem solved, even if they wouldn’t work in real life.

Thrillers don’t need to be based around fact to be effective. What they do need to be is, well, thrilling. When you can stay ahead of the plot for the majority of the time the movie is playing, it’s hard for that to happen. Not impossible — some better thrillers are predictable but are able to overcome that because of strong characters, actors, or direction — but very tough. Firewall has little to keep you interested, assuming you’ve seen this story told before. It will still pass the time, but it’s really not worth it if you have other options.

Did I enjoy Firewall a little bit? Sure. Does that mean you should watch it? No. There are some films that I’ll generally like, at least somewhat, regardless of quality or purpose. There’s no real reason to watch Firewall when other movies do the same thing and better, but to pass the time late at night when you can’t sleep, it works effectively at keeping you awake. And at the beginning, it’s kind of funny, too. I wish that sense of humor was kept throughout.

Harrison Ford is and probably always will be fun to watch. I don’t know if I buy him, at 63 years of age, in this kind of role — it gets rather physical later on and you don’t really see Ford doing much of that — but because it’s Harrison Ford, you can’t complain too much. His character’s family members get nothing to do, and Paul Bettany is a very uninteresting villain. Alan Arkin and Robert Patrick have small roles, with the latter’s almost managing to matter before the film forgets about him and drops that idea.

Does Firewall work? Not exactly well enough to recommend, but enough that it won’t exactly be unpleasant to watch if it comes on the television late at night and you have nothing better to do or can’t find the remote. It’s a generic thriller with a predictable plot and only one actor and character that genuinely matters. It has a few suspenseful moments, and it has a charm to it at the beginning (which is unfortunately dropped later on), and it isn’t a complete waste of time. It’s harmless.

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