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Firewall is as tired as its star

By Lady Liberty
web posted February 13, 2006


* out of ****

FirewallBig movie openings in recent weeks have been few and far between. With time and weather also conspiring against a drive to a larger venue with more choices, I settled for DVDs last weekend. This weekend, Firewall opened and I was delighted to head back to the theatre on Friday night. I should have stayed with DVDs again.

Those with computer savvy know that a firewall is intended to prevent unauthorized access into computer systems. Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) knows plenty about firewalls. He's a vice president in charge of security for a bank in Seattle, Washington. But his biggest worry as the movie opens isn't security per se; it's the pending merger of his bank with a much larger conglomerate. Jack isn't so sure the merger is a good idea. His boss and good friend Arlen (Alan Arkin) lets Jack know how important the merger is. But Jack's not convinced, and the fact he doesn't like the man in charge of ensuring the merger goes smoothly (Robert Patrick) doesn't help.

Jack's current disillusionment with his job is one reason he's willing to have a drink after work with his friend and co-worker (Robert Forster) and a man with a business proposition for the two of them. Jack, who is in a hurry to get home for his family's weekly pizza night, assures both men he'll think about joining them in a business venture. But when he gets in his car for the drive home, the man he's just met jumps into the back seat of his car and informs him his family is being held hostage to coerce Jack's cooperation with a major heist.

Once back at his house, Jack finds his architect wife, Beth (Virginia Madsen), his teenaged daughter, Sarah (Carly Schroeder), and his eight year-old son Andrew (Jimmy Bennett) bound and gagged on the sofa. Only then does Jack learn that the man he met earlier in the evening is the gang's leader (Bill Cox, played by Paul Bettany), and that he's has been watching him, waiting for his chance to pull off his intricately planned caper.

With the threat to his family to ensure his good behavior, Jack reluctantly agrees to do as he's told. Even so, he has moments of rebellion as he enlists the unknowing help of his secretary, Janet (Mary Lynn Rajskub) or a young man working in the bank's wire transfer department. Jack's odd behavior and his even gruffer than usual demeanor doesn't sit well with co-workers, not least of whom is his old nemesis, the man facilitating the merger. But that pales in comparison to the fact that Jack's criminal handlers know he's not been fully cooperative, and there will be repercussions.

A good friend of mine noted that Firewall looked to her just like most Harrison Ford movies look. She's right. But I happen to like Harrison Ford movies, so that was okay with me. True to type, Ford's character in Firewall is gruff but slow to anger; loyal as can be, but an unrelenting force of nature when he's crossed. The problem is that, at 62, Ford is just too old and stiff to play such a man convincingly (to his credit, Ford did his own stunts, but even with some decent editing of a fight scene, some set-ups were clearly visible). Virginia Madsen, who was so brilliant in Sideways, takes a giant step down with her role here. Though she's given little to work with, she does little with it, either. The actors playing the children at least hold up their end of the deal!

Paul Bettany offers what is probably the best performance of the film. He's soft-spoken and friendly, yet at the same time utterly unfeeling and chilling which those of us who know what he is can see — even behind the convincing facade he hides behind. When he loses control for brief moments, it's possible to watch him actually rein his anger in. Another of the gang of bad guys, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who plays the man apparently second in command of the group), is also good. The rest of the major cast members, most notably Robert Patrick and Mary Lynn Rajskub, are just fine.

The production values are good, but with one glaring exception: for some bizarre reason, money was spent on locations and sets that are perfectly serviceable, but blue screen techniques were used — badly — in the windows of a couple of the moving car scenes. In a movie with this kind of budget, that's not only unacceptable, it's inexcusable. Worst is the script, which is truly awful. The technobabble is both transparent and insufficient; the lines spoken by characters would have been nothing short of stilted had they been uttered by less capable actors. And the plot itself was entirely predictable, from beginning to end (even when the writer apparently ran out of logic and opted for the deus ex machina of a high tech doggie collar to get him out of a corner he'd backed himself into).

Before Firewall began, there was the usual set of coming attractions. Among the trailers was one for the upcoming The Inside Man (starring Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, and Jodie Foster). It's about — you guessed it — an intricately planned bank robbery. I have high hopes for The Inside Man. The 60 second trailer was better than all of the movie that followed. (Actually, the opening credits of Firewall are impressive. If the rest of the film had lived up to those wonderfully rendered few minutes, it would have been a pretty good show.)

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Firewall is rated PG-13 for "some intense sequences of violence." Though there's nothing graphic, there is one scene in particular involving a young boy that might prove particularly upsetting for younger kids. In general terms, I'd say the PG-13 rating has got it just about right. Most 13 year-old kids, though, are going to be bored to distraction with a movie that even they'll be able to predict with little effort, and they won't even have the memory of Harrison Ford as the uber-heroic Han Solo to fall back on when all else fails. I can't in good conscience recommend Firewall for audiences of any age.

Junebug (DVD Review)

** 1/2 out of ****

JunebugWith one Oscar-nominated performance in the film (Best Supporting Actress), I'd heard of Junebug. But I'd heard little else, and one nomination wasn't going to get Junebug to the top of my "must see before March" movie list. But the strong recommendation of a fellow movie lover made me make the time to take a look at the film on DVD, and I'm truly pleased that fate conspired to get me to see Junebug after all.

This wonderfully quirky independent film tells the story of Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a Chicago art dealer who is a city girl from the tips of her sensible pumps to the top of her well coiffed head. Young, pretty, and newly married to George (Alessandro Nivola), both her life and her career are going well. The icing on the cake — at least for now — would be the signing of a talented unknown artist for an exclusive showing at her gallery. Madeleine gets a tip that just such an artist is ripe for the picking in a small town in North Carolina, and so she makes plans to see the artist and his work for herself.

George, as it turns out, was born and raised in North Carolina only half an hour or so from where the artist lives. The trip instantly becomes not just a chance to sign an artist but the opportunity to meet her new husband's family for the first time. If George seems a bit reluctant over the last part, well, Madeleine's own anticipation largely blinds her to it.

After the long drive from Chicago to North Carolina, the pair arrive at George's childhood home. His mother, Peg (Celia Weston) is fussing in the kitchen, and his father, Eugene (Scott Wilson) is staying out of Peg's way. Younger brother Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie) is sullen and uncooperative not to mention less than excited to see his brother and his new wife. Johnny's very pregnant wife, Ashley (Amy Adams) is, however, excited about pretty much everything.

The culture clash between Madeleine and George's family is obvious and immediate. The irrepressible Ashley, however, takes Madeleine in hand. Chattering non-stop, she shows Madeleine to her room — currently being prepared as a nursery for the coming baby — and makes no secret of the fact she's delighted to meet Madeleine. George isn't sure what to do, so he takes a page from his father's book and stays out of the way. Madeleine, meanwhile, is bemused and entirely captivated by all of it.

Madeleine does go to meet painter David Wark (Frank Hoyt Taylor) who is both talented (if you like that kind of thing) and exceedingly eccentric to boot. But Madeline is determined to sign Wark to her gallery, and neither a competing gallery owner from New York nor Ashley's labor is going to stop her from getting the contract! But interwoven between these seminal events are such ordinary moments as breakfast, a church potluck social, an on-the-job smoke break, and the woeful shortage of communication that can short circuit the relationships even of those who love each other deeply.

Embeth Davidtz is perfect as Madeleine. She overshadows Alessandro Nivola, but then Madeleine overshadows George so the casting makes sense. Celia Weston and Scott Wilson are perfect as George's taciturn parents, and Frank Hoyt Taylor is wonderful. Benjamin McKenzie (previously mostly of television fame) does a terrific job in a role that allows him to live some very emotional moments without a single crack in his tough-guy persona. Amy Adams, though, is a real delight to watch. It's no surprise that critics have recognized her performance as one deserving of awards. Her portrayal of constant optimism covering the surprising fragility and near despair of the woman inside is nothing short of brilliant. Good for her! (As an aside, the paintings that are the subject of so much of Madeleine's attention are absolutely priceless. I defy anyone to see this film and fail to drop a jaw and then crack a smile when you see painter Wark's rendition of Robert E. Lee.)

The production values on Junebug aren't the best. This movie clearly didn't cost a lot of money to make. Initially, I would have said that the edits were also on the lower end of the scale. But if you can just sit tight for Junebug's deceptively slow beginning, the edits will begin to be far better than just good, and the script and the story will thoroughly draw you in. The plot is engaging, and the script, for all of its subtlety, is just fantastic. Junebug is writer Angus MacLachlan's second script, and the first in a long while. It was worth the wait. Director Phil Morrison — whose previous efforts include several films of which I've never heard — did great job with what he was given, and in fact, surpassed the sum of the parts with some really wonderful touches.

When the movie first began, I couldn't imagine why anyone had suggested I see it. Within 15 minutes, I had a pretty good idea. And by the end, I found myself inclined to offer some strong recommendations in Junebug's favor myself.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Junebug is rated R for "sexual content and language." I'd agree that neither the subject nor the presentation are suitable for children. I'd say that mature teens age 15 or so and up would be fine seeing Junebug, and in fact it might actually offer them a few life lessons in the process. Meanwhile, movie fans will appreciate this great script and the good acting, while almost anyone will find somebody in Junebug that they themselves know — or perhaps even someone very much like they themselves are. It's sneaky, but Junebug will work its way into your head where it won't let go anytime soon!

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.


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