The problem with Harrison Ford in “Firewall” is that watching him navigate the terminology of computer-based security systems is like watching Indiana Jones hunt bad guys using Google instead of a bullwhip.
That’s not to say that Ford plays Jack Stanfield in this bank security thriller as Indiana Jones; Ford is a consummate actor, trained to seamlessly meld his unique brand of cockeyed charm with characters in all situations. But when his character huffily exits a conference room early in the picture, it feels less like Stanfield is resisting the new technologies being thrown at him, and more like Ford preemptively stating, “Don’t bother me with this silly techno-plotting. I’ve got action to play here.” He’s played leading men for thirty years, and every fiber of each performance has been infused with simple, character-driven moviemaking. As a result, he’s superb in his niche, and in “Firewall,” he’s quite thoroughly out of it.
The high-tech plot is fully to blame. Jack Stanfield is a bank security expert whose family is abruptly kidnapped by a sadistic criminal (Paul Bettany) as part of a high-tech bank heist. His family is held hostage in order to coerce Jack to steal from his own bank, effectively using his knowledge of the system he helped build to undermine it to the tune of $100 million dollars.
That’s it. No more complicated than that – and as formulaic and distressingly predictable as Hollywood pictures come. Along the way, Ford is forced to talk about hacker attempts, firewalls, encryption codes and computer privacy from the point of view of an expert. Regrettably, it’s completely unbelievable. A picture that relies on technological plotting already treads in deep water, but to place an old-fashioned movie star like Ford in a role we’re meant to associate with bits and bytes is a prime example of miscasting; Ford’s entire career has been constructed on organic characterizations – we believe Han Solo doesn’t give a shit about how his laser pistols work, it only matters that he knows how to use them.
Along the way, we’re offered an extraordinary amount of deliciously inept writing. The amount of times Ford is forced to sputter “Who are you and what do you want from my family” to Bettany’s character is nearly comical, and for his part, Bettany receives brilliant lines like “Don’t think for a moment that I just blundered in out of the rain.” The two men do their best, and Bettany gets the better character – he’s also more effectively cast. But the plot is transparent, its conclusion apparent from the trailer – all that’s left is to figure out at which point Ford’s character gains the upper hand and fights his way to his family’s freedom. And we don’t for a moment doubt that he’ll succeed in absolute terms – in other words, nobody good is going to die here.
Ford fans will be glad to see him back on the screen, and we are enjoying hints of future projects from the enigmatic actor – including a potential return to Indy Jones – but in the interim, this lackluster action film fails to satiate. It’s a generic hostage film with an ill-fitting hook that provides a big star delivering very little excitement.