Remember the good old days of the 80's and early 90's when a Harrison Ford film was something to look forward to? When for every occasional misfire ("Regarding Henry", "The Devil's Own") there was at least three or four genuine classics. It all changed in the late 90's though, Ford films became more often than not a thing to avoid ranging from the decent ("What Lies Beneath"), to the forgettably bland ("6 Days, 7 Nights", "K-19: The Widowmaker") to the utterly pitiful ("Random Hearts", "Hollywood Homicide"). "Firewall" joins the 'bland' category of Ford's recent efforts, a very run of the mill, old fashioned B-movie kidnap thriller which wouldn't get any attention from filmgoers if it weren't for the presence of some A-list talent.
Mish-mashing elements of a heist movie, a home invasion thriller and even an old fashioned western, the title may put off filmgoers who think the movie will be too technical when, with the exception of Ford delivering 2-3 lines of computer speak, it actually does a good job of avoiding it. Sticking with appliances like iPods, cell phones, fax machines and laptops that everyone will be familiar with, the film follows all the beats that a competent and polished studio thriller should hit, yet it never proves more than fitfully engaging.
Most of the problems comes from the material which has become worn out and cliche after many years and movies that follow similar lines ranging from the much better ("Panic Room", "Red Eye") to the equally bland ("Hostage", "Nick of Time"). Characters are flat and thin, logic is followed for the most part but dropped at the key moments where it would short cut the narrative, and the pace is kept relatively fast to try and make its audience miss the plot holes.
What makes it a passable diversion is those involved. The always easy to root for Ford does a slightly more tired take on his usual action hero here, growing increasingly frustrated as his options dwindle, before into a powerhouse dynamo in time for the big showdown with the bad guys. Bettany's ice cool villain is pretty straight forward bad, and the man never takes his scenery chewing dialogue too far over the top which adds to its effect. Yet he's undermined by one of the film's big flaws - how could a man so well prepared for this scheme miss such a crucial piece of information that would've been relatively easy to access.
Madsen does as much as she can to add depth to an utterly bland wife character and succeeds at least in giving the cliche something with a bit more personal touch. Minor players similarly make stock characters into something more palatable including Robert Patrick as a company foil, "24" star Mary Lynn Rajskub as Ford's acerbic secretary, and one of my favourite young but still mostly unknown actors working today - Kett Turton - as the kindest of the villain's helpers who meets an all too telegraphed fate.
Richard Loncraine's direction similarly is better than the material deserves - the pace is kept pretty fast throughout and rarely falls into moments of blandness. Likewise he engenders his Seattle with a hi-tech, rainswept and often dark look that makes the film visually quite arresting. Yet he can't overcome some sheer moments of stupidity and even maliciousness in the script ranging from the exploiting of a kid's peanut allergy to Ford coming upon a dead body and conveniently getting his prints all over everything including the weapon. Don't even get me started on the family dog with its cuteness and plot-relevant accessories.
With its mostly yuppie house or bank-contained setting, the thriller follows the familiar beats of Ford's failed attempts to get away from the watchful eye of his tormentors, his brief time as fugitive from the law out to stop them and prove his innocence, and then the somewhat silly final act Charles Bronson style fisticuffs and threatening statements of "give me back my family". Its all been done before and much better, and as much as we all like to see Ford out to save the day or Bettany as an ice cool baddie, its a shame they picked such a weak vehicle as this to do it with.