So begins "Firewall", the new thriller starring Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany and Virginia Madsen. After years of subjecting us to romantic comedies and dramas, tepid at best, awful at worst, it is nice to see Ford returning to the genre he does so well. Yes, the film uses cookie cutter elements from many of his previous films (and many of Michael Douglas' previous films, for that matter) but it is still a welcome step in the right direction.
Ford plays Jack Stanfield, the man in charge of computer operations at a mid-size bank in the Pacific Northwest. A merger has just been completed and they now have more branches, more assets and Jack doesn't get along with the larger bank's liaison (Robert Patrick). Jack is one of those movie heroes who cares about two things; his family and his job. This is one of those movies in which the hero will have the two things he cares most about threatened; his family and his job. He will ultimately have to figure out how to save his family while doing minimum damage to the institution that has employed him for the last twenty years. And from all indications, paid him well.
In films like this, everything is about the hero and the villain; everyone else is pure window dressing. Paul Bettany makes an interesting villain. Cool and collected, he never loses his calm, rarely shouts, yet seems entirely menacing. His plan seems good, convincing, and very thorough, until he runs into an obstacle. Virginia Madsen is good as Jack's wife, but the role is pretty generic. Basically, any actress could play the role. This is a rather sad statement. Is this really the best role Virginia Madsen could find? She is closer to Ford's age than many of his previous film partners have been, but is still a good two decades younger, but it is better than the usual three or four. The implausible bit of the family dynamic comes with the introduction of their two children. Okay, I can maybe believe Ford, who is in his early sixties, might have a 14 year old daughter, but an 8 year old son? This stretches things a bit too much. In Matthew McConnaughey's new film "Failure to Launch", Kathy Bates, who is 56, plays McConnaughey's mom, and he is in his early 30s.
The plan to rob the bank seems well constructed and it is interesting to watch both Jack and Bill Cox (Bettany's character) work through the various elements of their respective plans. At some point, naturally, Jack will attempt to turn the tide, and it is at this point that the film becomes more interesting. As we watch Cox's plan, and then Jack's start to unfold, the mechanics of these schemes hold our interest, involving us. It is more interesting to watch Jack unravel the intricacies of his scenario, because it is new and not necessarily as well thought out. Bill's plan is calculated and interesting, but he knows every detail of it. We learn the details because he is letting Jack in on a particular aspect. It is still fun, but watching Jack hatch a plan as we watch is like letting us in on the secret. It also allows us to root for the hero. As he hatches a way to get the upper hand, we feel included in this operation and we want Jack to win the day.
The film is more a suspense film than action. Ford is getting older, so the filmmakers have, thankfully, confined the action to a segment during the finale. It seems more natural this way. If he were always getting into fist fights or car chases, we would begin to question where the character, a security person at a bank, received this training.
"Firewall" is a long way from the Harrison Ford films we all love; a ludicrous plot twist late in the film and one of the most obnoxious images I have seen in film in a long time don't leave us with a favorable impression. But there are elements of suspense and Ford is an empathetic, believable grandfather, er... father and husband to his wife and kids.
Worthy of a bargain matinee.