Monday, February 13, 2006

The New Yorker asks: “What ever happened to Baby Harrison?”

For those of you that have been largely hibernating from the cinema during these Pre-Oscar doldrums, you probably didn’t see Harrison Ford’s latest film, Firewall, this weekend. Heck, even if you weren’t, you probably didn’t see it anyway –the Warner Brothers release opened at the number four slot this weekend, and made a paltry $13 million.

That’s $13 Million on an opening weekend for a Harrison Ford Movie.


I mean this was no small independent film with a limited release in New York and LA only, it was a big cheese studio film which probably clost a pretty penny, and hit 2, 840 screens across the U.S.

OK, let’s forget the money for a second, because we also know that not every great movie does well at the box office. But the sad truth is, Firewall wasn’t a great movie, it wasn’t even a good movie, --in fact it was pretty poor.

Now I didn’t shell out any clams this weekend to go see it, but I did have the luck of being invited to a free screening a couple weeks ago. I had seen the trailer for it a few times, and suspected that the film could go either way as far as, fairly straightforward thrillers, with a hostage/kidnapp scenario thrown in, go. Sometimes these “protect my family member(s)” pot boilers can be pretty good (like Panic Room and Ransom), and sometimes they range from mediocre to weak (like Hostage and Don’t Say a Word {–“I’ll never teeeell”}).

In Firewall, Harrison Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a chief security officer at a mid- size bank. Jack is in the midst of dealing with a mildy annoying corporate merger, but other than that life is pretty good. He has a nice house and car, a supportive wife, two strapping kids, and a cute dog. That is until Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) comes into his life, fronting as a potential associate in a business venture, only to reveal himself as a sleek but brutal bank robber. As Jack slips into his car to head home for “pizza night”, Bill puts a gun to his head and shows him pictures on his cell phone of his daughter screaming. Jack is forced to drive home and discovers that Bill’s team of thugs has barged into his home and taken his family captive. Bill tells Jack that he will either help him rob the bank he works for, or his family will be killed.

The game’s afoot.

Bill’s thugs keep Jack’s family under house arrest, while Jack has to continue to go to work and pretend everything is normal, despite the fact that he is hacking into his company’s system to deplete several big time accounts of their funds. Of course every fiber of Jack’s being wants to fight against Bill and his master plan. So we witness a series of attempts on Jack’s part and subsequent foilings by Bill, as Jack tries to alert someone as to what’s going on but Bill keeps finding out.

Filmmaker Richard Loncraine (Wimbledon, My House in Umbria) tries to develop a real tension between Bill and Jack. He portrays Bill as a viscious and ruthless villain and Jack as the beleaguered protagonist who must fight on behalf of his family. But there was a much better Harrison Ford film, that captured this dynamic adroitly about fourteen years ago, and it was called Patriot Games. Except in that movie the tension felt much more organic, because the villain (in that case played by Sean Bean) actually had a reason to seek out a personal vendetta on Ford and his family. His younger brother had died in at Ford’s hand, and his desire for retribution was so great it drove him to bloodlust. While Bill in Firewall, had an objective, --to steal the money from the bank, we know so little about his background, M.O., or relationship to his thugs, that it is difficult to understand his behavior towards the Stanfield family. I kept asking myself questions as I watched the film, like –is this Bill’s first robbery? Where does he get all the fancy equipment that he uses from? Does he work for anyone? Unfortunately, very little background was revealed on the Bill Cox character.

There is a creepy scene in the film where Bill knowingly feeds Jack’s son cookies that contain peanuts in them. It had already been established that the young boy has peanut allergies and that Bill knows this. As Jack’s son begins to go into anaphylactic shock, Bill watches the family around him panic, and waits a beat before he hands over the epinephrine that will save his life. Bill seems quite the candidate for a psychopth in this moment, and yet throughout the entire film Bettany’s performance totters between that of a measured control freak master mind, and a sadist sociopath. That’s the other thing about this film, it had some dark moments, but studio and filmmakers alike seemed concerned about making it REALLY dark. There was certainly room to use the brutality of Bill and his cohorts to explore certain themes and elements, but instead a haphazard happy medium of a little dark but not too dark, led to a generic tone.

Generic is probably the best word that I can think of to describe this film; --there wasn’t a whole lot to laugh about, cry about, scream about, or gasp about. It was just there; fairly flat one dimensional characters and a predictable plot with lacklustre visuals. Harrison Fords preformance actually wasn’t bad. The knack that he showed in The Fugitive (a far superior film) for mixing his character’s vulnerability with steel like tenacity was once again visible in Firewall. Ford’s desperation and gruffness at the situation at hand felt sincere enough, though it would have been nice if his character had been a bit more well rounded. Jack’s goal of “I want my family back” gave him a one note pitch, and I think it would have behooved the film if we had seen more of what he was like when he wasn’t in this ultimate do or die situation.

While I enjoyed seeing Ford on the big screen, as I always do, –I couldn’t help but ask myself what he was doing in this movie. Why was the man who has become tantamount to the Hollywood sign itself in his iconography, ---the man who has toted the laser blaster of Han Solo AND the whip of Indiana Jones, starring in a second rate, boring as peas, thriller?

The last film that Harrison Ford was in that I genuinely enjoyed was Robert Zemeckis’s What Lies Beneath. Though WLB was predominantly a Michelle Pfieffer vehicle, I thought it an interesting and laudable choice for him. Ford played a villain, which was against type, and I liked the fact that he seemed comfortable taking a secondary role. But that film was six years ago, and his last strong film before that was Air Force One, and that was nine years ago. The man is a film legend, and I don’t understand why he keeps ending up in celluloid liabilities like “Hollywood Homicide” and “Six Days, Seven Nights”.

Would somebody just hurry up and make Indy 4 already?!


Blogger The Coen Bros. said...

"Get off my bank"

Mr. Ford has been doing crap for way too long now. His one interesting choice for a role was when he decided to do Traffic. Of course, he then dropped out of that to do some other crap film and that role went to Dennis Quaid, who oddly enough now has a better career than Ford. In fact, I bet a lot of roles that used to go to Ford get offered to Quaid.

It's sad to see, but I don't think Ford has done anything of merit since The Fugative. I guess he bought too much stuff and now has to pay it off with crappy films.

7:23 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Yeah, that was a bum move on his part not to do the role in traffic --and yeah, the Dennis Quaid phenomenon is strange. Not that Quaid has a career, but that it's better than Fords.

I love The Fugitive.

8:54 AM  

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