Judging by the box office fate that has greeted Harrison Ford's post-millennium efforts, it is fair to say that the actor's glory years were back in the '80s and '90s. Where Ford's name on the top of the marquee once meant you were going to get either a franchise blockbuster ('Star Wars,' 'Indiana Jones'), a top-notch action-thriller ('The Fugitive,' 'Patriot Games') or an Oscar-caliber drama ('Witness,' 'Working Girl'), his last few anemic efforts ('K19: The Widowmaker,' 'Hollywood Homicide') had D.O.A. stamped all over them, having been both critically lambasted and commercially ignored. Now add to that list 'Firewall,' a thoroughly by-the-numbers, would-be hi-tech thriller that again failed to reverse Ford's declining box office fortunes.
It's an ordinary day at Landrock Pacific Bank -- ordinary for everyone except I.T. expert Jack Stanfield (Ford). His wife Beth (Virginia Madsen) and children are being held hostage back at home, and the kidnappers, led by the ruthless Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) have only one demand: Jack must heist $100 million from the bank's state-of-the-art security system he himself helped to design. Showing an "everyman's vulnerability, strength and resourcefulness" (at least according to the back of the DVD box), Stanfield must stay one step ahead of Cox if he is to rescue his family and single-handedly foil his adversaries' fool-proof plan. Think he's gonna do it?
What is most surprising about 'Firewall' is how formulaic it all is, coming so late in the "innocent man caught in Kaftka-esque nightmare" genre, which was popularized by such '90s thrillers as the Ford vehicles 'The Fugitive' and 'Frantic' and anything starring Michael Douglas. Aside from the high-concept hook of having the villain mastermind his scheme using the latest Internet technology (a device which is tossed out of the window by the end of the second act anyway), there is not a single plot contrivance or "surprise twist" we don't recognize from a dozen other, better thrillers. Even the climax is a disappointment, because it's so lazy it can't even put a hip spin on the obligatory duel-to-the-death between hero and villain. (Oh, c'mon now, you really didn't think 'Firewall' would end any other way, did you?)
Admittedly, some of 'Firewall' is fun in that brain-dead popcorn movie kind of way. But it is also very lazy. Ford seems to be going through the motions and just collecting another $15 million payday, and even the usually lively Bettany, despite a few icy glares, seems to be phoning it in. Only Madsen steps up to the plate, but hers is such a thankless role even the always-spirited Oscar nominee can't turn shit into gold. And as directed by Richard Loncraine ('Wimbeldon,' 'Band of Brothers'), 'Firewall' is surprisingly lacking in style -- if you're stuck directing a script as predictable as this, at least show it to us in a way we haven't seen before. While admittedly I wasn't expecting great things from 'Firewall,' given the talent involved, it should have been better than just the barely competent.
As befitting a new release, 'Firewall' looks quite good. This HD DVD boasts a very clean and detailed picture, the kind that is hard to fault even if it never really rocks your world.
Certainly, there isn't much to complain about -- a whistle-clean print, rock solid blacks and overall excellent contrast. Somewhat unique for a new film, 'Firewall's visual style uses a fair amount of diffused lighting and filters, which sometimes gives the picture a less-than-sharp look in select shots. However, this appears to be intentional, and overall this transfer is still very three-dimensional. Shadow delineation is also well above average, with fine details visible in even the darkest scenes.
Colors, too, are very well rendered, especially the rich orange fleshtones and some subtle uses of green and purple. However, the film's color palette also seems a tad bit subdued on purpose, which gives some of the rainy exteriors a slightly drab, flat appearance. Otherwise, this is a very good high-def visual presentation.
Like the transfer, the Dolby Digital-Plus surround track included here is above-average if not truly exceptional. Primarily a quiet mix that's front heavy, only during the action scenes (which are actually rather infrequent) does the sound design really come alive. In those moments, directionality is fairly aggressive, with frequent uses of localized effects in the rears and near-transparent imaging. Dynamic range is also wide and spacious, with clean highs and fairly deep low bass.
Conversely, the film's quieter passages are rather dull. There is little sense of envelopment or atmosphere, with only the occasional use of subtle sound effects. I was also surprised that the score wasn't more pronounced in the mix, but then in all honesty it is a pretty unmemorable soundtrack anyway (no offense to composer Alexandre Desplat -- oops). In the end, 'Firewall's soundtrack delivers -- it just doesn't excel.
Being Warner's second hybrid HD DVD/DVD disc release (following last month's 'Rumor Has It...'), 'Firewall' includes the standard DVD version on the flipside, so I guess you can call that an extra in and of itself. Unfortunately, 'Firewall' also continues the approach Warner started with 'Rumor' of only including the bonus features on the standard DVD side of the disc, so that means you're gonna have to flip the disc over after the main feature if you want to watch the extras. (Grrrr...)
But that's actually not so bad, because the included supplements are kinda dull anyway. Aside from the film's theatrical trailer (presented in 2.35:1), the only other extras are two featurettes. "'Firewall': Decoded" is a 15-minute conversation between Harrison Ford and director Richard Loncraine. These two discuss the film at times like it is Shakespeare, which is unintentionally humorous. I also hate to admit it but Ford is pretty pretentious, so even fifteen minutes was more than enough time to spend with the Hollywood's most overpaid curmudgeon. The second featurette is "Writing a Thriller," a thrifty four-minute solo chat with screenwriter Joe Forte. He, too, takes 'Firewall' a bit too seriously, but his comments on writing a hostage thriller post-9/11 are interesting, as are his insights into the film's rather thin characters. So if you're at all interested in the making of 'Firewall,' both of these featurettes are worth watching.
'Firewall' is a very predictable, routine thriller that plays just fine as a mindless Saturday night rental, but it is hard to imagine anyone wanting to watch this one more than once. As far as the HD DVD goes, you do get a nice transfer and soundtrack and extras as formulaic as the film. So I'd recommend a Netflix rental for this one, and leave a purchase for diehard Harrison Ford fans only.