The new thriller Firewall works a number of changes on some familiar material. It demonstrates that the tried and true Hollywood product, no matter how often it appears, remains entertaining and engaging. Whatever its debt to hundreds of movies from the past, it also suggests new directions in its genre, emphasizing once again that popular film in general often responds to its contexts more accurately and perceptively than a whole talk show full of expert professional commentators. The film in fact examines a number of unpleasant realities and subsequent tensions of life in this time and place.
Harrison Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a highly successful executive in charge of computer security for a chain of banks on the verge of a merger with a larger conglomerate. He owns a grand sailboat, lives in a magnificent house designed by his architect wife (Virginia Madsen), with the requisite two spoiled children, a 14-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old brother. Aside from the stress involved in the merger and his dislike of the people who negotiate it, life is good --- until, of course, in the tradition of the form, everyday life explodes into nightmare, and evil, in the person of a smooth, smart, utterly vicious thief, Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), violently intrudes.
Cox and his gang, heavily armed and equipped with the latest electronic gear, invade the Stanfield home, bind and gag the family, and begin the process transforming Jack's safe, comfortable world into a place of danger and fear. The crooks plan to use Jack's access to the bank's computers and his expertise to steal 100 million dollars and transfer it to an untraceable offshore account.
Distinguishing Firewall from many other similar works, the gang employs an array of sophisticated electronic equipment eerily similar to the stuff that the current administration uses to spy on American citizens --- listening devices, surveillance cameras, cell phone taps, etc. --- to carry out their scheme. They plant a miniature camera and audio transmitter on Jack as he goes about his daily business, for example, so that he will obey their orders and keep their scheme secret. The audience sees much of the action, in fact, on the computer screens and television monitors that the gang installs all over Jack's house, ironically paralleling the elaborate system that the bank itself uses for security.
The intimidation of the family to force Jack to cooperate, a relatively common contrivance of the form, leads to more complex and unusual plot situations. In its attention to technology and intricate planning, Firewall suggests a big caper flick shown from the victim's point of view, a complicated endeavor that Jack must somehow prevent while protecting his wife and children. When it turns out that he must help Cox accomplish his scheme, he becomes, in effect, an accomplice, coming up with solutions to unforeseen problems, sweating through a couple of sticky situations, assisting his dangerous enemies in the hope of saving his family.
In keeping with the high-tech nature of Jack's profession, the movie dwells on the constant presence of the latest electronics in just about every area of his everyday life --- burglar alarms, computers, cell phones, fax machines, domestic and bank surveillance equipment, his son's sophisticated toys and games, his daughter's withdrawal into television and her CD player, even a location signal on his straying dog's collar. Appropriately, however, his skill with all that machinery enables him finally to mount a counterattack to foil the robbery and rescue his family, indicating the script's ambivalence toward a technology that both serves and endangers its users.
Firewall manipulates its situation and people with considerable skill and polish, carefully particularizing Jack Stanfield's environment, endowing the ironic predicament of a computer expert forced to break into his own system, a banker robbing his own bank, with a steadily increasing tension. Jack's desperate attempts to aid the criminals while evading the bank's complicated surveillance system enlists the audience on his side, which also means that the viewer, hoping for his success, also shares something of his guilt, a nice touch.
In addition to its attention to the latest in technology and criminality, the movie suggests some ironic commentary on the predicament in which snooping of all kinds now places all of us, both as victims and voyeurs.
Firewall (PG-13), directed by Richard Loncraine, is playing at Canandaigua Theatres, Culver Ridge 16, Eastview 13, Geneseo Theatres, Greece Ridge 12, Henrietta 18, Pittsford Cinema, Tinseltown
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