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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Firewall

I love visiting the Essex Cinemas. I always feel so welcome and like part of a big family. It wasn’t until recently that I began to realize though that if I was a part of the family I must be the elderly aunt rather than one of the kids who has just graduated to the “big table” but still relates more to the young’uns than to the “old people.” As much as I adore talking movies with the staff at the Essex Cinemas I finally had to admit that most of the films I was referencing as the source material for the remakes, sequels, adaptations, or take-offs on other films were originally produced when the concession kids were in diapers. To most of them, Harrison Ford is what he is today, a standard action movie star, one of those guys who basically make the same movie over and over, battling villains with guns and explosions, guaranteeing an exciting if mindless two hour thrill ride.

For me the question is “When did Harrison Ford get so damned old?” Indiana Jones now looks like he could break a hip if he tried one of his trademark stunts. In his newest thriller,
Firewall, the poor guy plays Jack Stanfield and he looks like a Jack ~ a Jack o’ Lantern in mid November, if you know what I mean. The years are not being kind, and the fact that he is paired with the gorgeous Virginia Madsen as his wife, Beth, and he has two kids, aged 14 and 8, seems to be stretching credibility before the story begins. I’m sorry, but I kept thinking the kids should be calling him “Grandpa” and Virginia should be calling him “Dad” not swapping spit with him in their magnificent multi-million dollar Seattle area estate.

Jack is some genius banker who is in charge of computer security for the Landrock Pacific Bank,
which, much to his chagrin is in the process of undergoing a merger with another bank in Wichita, Kansas. As if he isn’t having enough stress dealing with that headache, his life becomes even much more complicated upon meeting Bill Cox (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). Mr. Cox is supposedly in town representing the other bank’s interests but quickly makes it known that he has a much more personal agenda. He intends to have Jack siphon off $10,000 from each of Landrock Pacific’s top 10,000 customers and divert these funds to Cox’s off-shore accounts. To ensure Jack’s cooperation, while the two were meeting to discuss bank business Cox was having his team break into the Stanfield home and take Jack’s family hostage.

What follows is a tense if familiar thriller with Ford in his traditional macho role as the quiet yet powerhouse hero who will strike at just the most precise moment to set things right. At first it is a stretch to imagine him as the computer genius he is asked to play, probably because it is such a seemingly passive activity for a man we, the audience, know can provide the kick-butt energy necessary to be much more physical, but once he makes it clear that he has plans of his own regarding these home invaders it is easier to forgive the silliness of logic and just go with the flow of the story. After all, it’s a Harrison Ford movie, and you know he is going to get the bad guys. It’s just that simple.

The movie does languish in a few spots. It suffers from the usual movie clichés. One of the children is sick and could die without medical treatment. There is dissention in the ranks of the goons, and someone at the bank is just a few steps behind in figuring out that Jack is up to something fishy with the wire transfer system, all leading to detours along the way before the (obvious) final confrontation between Jack and Cox. It wouldn’t be a Ford movie if things didn’t get physical, and so, despite the 30 year difference in their ages, Ford and Bettany engage in a dazzling and bloody knock-down-drag-out that is as well-choreographed as a Martha Graham dance recital. I wouldn’t think of spoiling the ending for you, but I’ll bet you can guess how it ends.

One hint: Think pretty much just like every other Harrison Ford movie.

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