Warner Bros. // 2006 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // April 9th, 2007
Everything he loves is about to be used against him.
Some months ago, I took a look at Harrison Ford's rather pedestrian Firewall in the emerging HD DVD high definition format. While the presentation technology couldn't do much to enhance the content of this very predictable thriller, it did do wonders for the look and sound of the picture. Now, I have a chance to go back into the high-tech territory where character Jack Stanfield is forced into felony lest he forsake his own family. This time, the film is still rather unimpressive, but the Blu-ray treatment makes it look better than it really is. If you like style over substance, this incarnation of Firewall is just what you're seeking.
Oh, and since this is a story that you've seen and heard before many times, don't be surprised to find this is a review you may have read once before, too. Hey, if Harrison can retread, so can I.
Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Ark) is a tenured Vice President of Security at Landrock Pacific Bank. For a couple of decades now he's worked to ensure that the firm's computer infrastructure remains hacker-proof. His skills are sound, as he obviously has been on board to see and respond to the coming of the computer age. From time to time, he can key in a cryptic command that thwarts unwelcome cyber-thugs while raising the eyebrows of the young guns that work under him. On this day, though, a ruthless criminal, Bill Cox (Paul Bettany, The Da Vinci Code), has found a breach in the bank's security system -- the executive offices. Posing as the head of a pending startup company, Cox entices Jack' boss (Robert Forster, Lucky Number Slevin) to arrange a meeting with Jack and ultimately gain a tour of the bank's data center. Suddenly, Jack learns he's the target of an ambitious bank heist, and that he himself will need to break through the secure layers of the system he built or else see his family sacrificed as punishment for non-compliance. Can Jack protect his company's interests, protect his family, and halt Cox's grand plan before it's too late?
From even the briefest of plot outlines, it's clear that Firewall is very similar to the likes of Patriot Games, The Fugitive, or Air Force One, all which could be exchanged in part or parcel for this purported cyber-thriller. The problem with this film is that it doesn't seem to understand the technology it hopes to exploit. Its title alone indicates that Ford's character may find himself outside the company that once employed him, and that he'll have to literally hack through the security systems he installed in order to heist $10 million and save his loved ones. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. Instead, the story elects to keep Jack employed at the bank where security access is a non-issue (he is the VP of Security, after all). Okay -- then this will be an intriguing inside job where Jack will need to stay ahead of his own department as he's forced to loot the virtual vault. Well, sort of, but this premise gets bogged down with a half-realized subplot of a company merger and a security peer to Jack played by a plump Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day). In this day and age, complex mergers and all the grief that comes along with them are certainly ripe fruits to be picked, but screenwriter Joe Forte lets this possibility simply wither on the vine. In the end, Firewall becomes just another picture for Ford, and just another action thriller that's a bit soft on thrills, a bit slow in action, and a bit heavy-handed in its delivery, which will have you accurately guessing how it will resolve in the final reel (nothing new happens, sadly).
Warner Brothers again plays catch-up with this Blu-ray formatted high-definition disc, which was released three months ago in an alternative HD DVD issue. This disc features a single layer 2.40:1 transfer that shows off the superior image quality you should expect from the new format. Although it's not among the best of the best currently seen in Blu-ray, Firewall certainly benefits from the 1080p / VC-1 encoded transfer. The image offers excellent detail, crisp lines, deep black levels, and perfect color tones and saturation. Naturally, it makes sense to compare this disc to its HD DVD counterpart, which shows no noticeable differences between the two offerings. If you've chosen Blu-ray over HD DVD, there's nothing the other side has that you won't have here.
The audio, it would appear, is of lesser quality here than on the HD DVD disc. Not true. Actually, both discs offer a 5.1 surround mix delivered at 640kbps, on HD noted as "Dolby Digital-Plus" but in the Blu world referred to simply as "Dolby Digital 5.1." With that understood, you can expect this particular 5.1 track to perform admirably, definitely better than the standard definition DVD audio track. The clarity is good and the separation of the directional effects is impressive during the action sequences.
The same extras included on the HD DVD disc are contained here. Unfortunately, they're not very spectacular. In Decoding Firewall, you'll be granted access to a 15-minute discussion between Harrison Ford and director Richard Loncraine. This is perhaps the best element of the disc, since both are quite candid about the troubles inherent to the story line, the mess that ensued during filming without a completed script (shades of The Fugitive but with a lesser result), and the fact that, in the end, the picture turned out to be just "okay." Firewall -- Writing a Thriller is a three-minute interview with first-time screenwriter Joe Forte. It's a rushed affair and doesn't address the significant troubles that Ford and Loncraine discussed. Last up is an original theatrical trailer.
If you enjoy by-the-numbers setups in your screen thrillers, then perhaps Firewall will satisfy you. It's not a particularly bad film; it's just very, very familiar. Harrison Ford looks rather long in the tooth here -- that's seemingly by design, considering he's playing a career man who has been with his company for two-plus decades. One thing he does do well here is that he doesn't leap into whip-cracking bravado but, rather, keeps Jack's capabilities within reason (actually reduced to believable trembling on a couple of occasions). Virginia Madsen (Sideways) offers some grit as the embattled yet firmly nurturing mother who will stand up to her captors to protect her children. Carly Schroeder plays early-teen daughter Sarah quite well, but real kudos go to young Jimmy Bennett (Poseidon) who is very believable in his work and worth keeping an eye on.
Paul Bettany and his band of techno-thugs perform well and elicit appropriate amounts of fear and frustration, giving us plenty to hiss about and ultimately cheer as each gets their just desserts. (And yes, it's formulaic, so you just know it will descend into a sort of body count parade before its all over.)
Again, the film's not entirely bad, but it's not likely to show anything new to even the most casual action-intrigue film fan.
With Indiana Jones 4 in pre-production, it would certainly be premature to proclaim Harrison Ford has reached the twilight of his filmmaking years. But, like many other top-billing peers of his, once in a while an A-list actor will churn out a B-grade picture in between the better gigs. Firewall is such a picture. If you can lower your expectations properly, you may find a modicum of entertainment to wring out of this largely un-sensational production. At least it looks good in high definition on this new Blu-ray disc.
The cast and crew of Firewall are appropriately admonished for false advertising, pitching their picture as a gripping cyber thriller but failing to offer viewers their money's worth. Since no serious crime has been committed, though, the defendants are free to go -- with warning.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Featurette: Decoding Firewall
* Featurette: Firewall -- Writing a Thriller
* Theatrical Trailer