Warner Bros. // 2006 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // June 19th, 2006
Everything he loves is about to be used against him.
Every so often, a filmmaker, a studio, or a flagging action star may individually or collectively decide to try and slip one past the ticket-buying public. A spiffy one-sheet, a catchy title, and a kinetically-paced TV spots are sometimes all it takes to lure unsuspecting audiences into a two-hour diversion that will leave them wondering, "hey, haven't we seen this before?" If you say you haven't seen Warner Brother's new Firewall yet, well, I say you probably have seen it since it relies on so many action-intrigue set pieces that have gone before it. Of course, this one comes by way of a new High Definition (HD) and Standard Definition (SD) combo disc, and perhaps that will help give this largely retread affair a more compelling grip.
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 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 who 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 Jack himself will need to break through the secure layers of the system he built 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 highly similar to the likes of Patriot Games, The Fugitive, or Air Force One, all which could likely be exchanged in part or parcel for this purported cyber thriller. The difficulty of 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). OK, this will be an intriguing inside job where Jack will need to stay ahead of those in 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 subtext 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 fruit 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 of thrills, a bit slow in action, and with a heavy-handed delivery that will have you accurately guessing how it will resolve in the final reel. (Nothing new happens, sadly).
Warner Brothers releases its second day-and-date HD disc alongside the SD-formatted DVD. And, just like the earlier Rumor Has It..., Warner is releasing Firewall in an HD/SD combo-format flipper disc. The first side includes a single-layer high-definition 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 seen in HD up to this point, Firewall certainly benefits from the 1080p delivery (currently decoded at 1080i with Toshiba's current firmware version 1.2) by showcasing excellent detail, crisp lines, deep black levels, and perfect color tones and saturation. Compared to the SD version on the flipside, the HD transfer is easily the appropriate choice to make for playback. The audio is delivered in a likewise improved Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track that effortlessly upstages the standard 5.1 mix that accompanies the SD version. The fidelity is definitely enhanced as is the clarity and improved separation of the directional effects. In fairness to the SD transfer, it's well rendered in a 2.35:1 anamorphic image that is well detailed, nicely saturated, and free of most compression artifacts (there were a couple moiré effects visible). The few extra features are contained on the SD side and include 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 in the story line, the mess that ensued during filming without a completed script, and the fact that, in the end, the picture turned out to be just "OK." Next up is a three-minute interview with first time screenwriter Joe Forte, a rushed affair that doesn't address the significant troubles that Ford and Loncraine lamented. Last up is an anamorphic theatrical trailer (not to mention numerous plug-pieces for various Superman properties in advance of the upcoming Superman Returns).
The adaptability of the combo format here is appreciated, allowing the disc to be usable throughout the house in HD and SD players. The price, however, is a bit steep to truly make it a compelling purchase (and that's not accounting for the mediocre content of this particular disc). Technically speaking, neither format exhibited any playback issues.
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 and that's seemingly by design considering he's playing a career man whose been with his company for over two decades. One thing he does do well here is not leaping into whip-cracking bravado but, rather, keeping 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 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 it's all over).
Again, the film's not entirely bad but it's not too 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 that 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 and 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 HD.
The cast and crew of Firewall are appropriately admonished for false advertising, pitching their picture as a gripping cyber thriller yet failing to offer viewers their money's worth. While no serious crime has been committed, though, the defendants are free to go -- with warning.
Review content copyright © 2006 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic (SD DVD)
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic (HD DVD)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, HD / SD)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French, HD / SD)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish, HD / SD)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Featurette: Decoding Firewall
* Featurette: Firewall -- Writing a Thriller
* Theatrical Trailer