|HD DVD Mystery-Suspense|
|Written by Darren Gross|
|Saturday, 01 July 2006|
Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) is an executive responsible for the tight computerized security system for a group of Seattle banks. Just as Stanfield’s bank is bought in a merger with a huge conglomerate, his home is invaded and his family held hostage by a group of high-tech thugs lead by Cox (Paul Bettany). Using compact, portable surveillance technology, they keep Stanfield and his family closely monitored by audio and video, leaving them unable to make their situation known. They instruct Jack to go to work as usual and to obey all of Cox’s instructions. At the bank, Cox turns up, all smiles, pretending to be a business customer and has Jack take him on a tour of the bank’s secure computer vault room. In the computer room, Cox tells Jack to log into the computers and transfer $100 million dollars (in $10,000 increments taken from the 10,000 richest accounts) into an off-shore account. Unfortunately, Cox’s plan can’t work, as the bank’s recent merger has removed the terminals, and thereby Jack’s ability to gain access. Cox threatens Jack and his family with death unless he can devise a clever way to get into the computer system.
This fairly suspenseful thriller takes a simple premise and turns it into a confusing, erratic mess. While the technical credits are solid (the photography is slick and the production is well-polished), the direction and script are all over the map. Virginia Madsen is really wasted in a standard protective mother role, and is given nothing meaty or interesting to do. Ditto for Robert Forster and Robert Patrick, though Alan Arkin fairs slightly better. Ford is in typical fine form, though he appears way too stone-faced in the opening section and his mumblings (he seems to spend the first 15 minutes talking into his tie) are a bit hard to make out. Bettany makes a passable villain, but he’s directed inconsistently, and he alternates between his natural British accent and a more neutral near-American voice. The script would seem to indicate a British character (Ford’s secretary makes some lame comment about him being the only one of Ford’s clients to ever prefer tea) but apparently no-one remembered it on set. Mary Lynn Rajskub (as Ford’s increasingly put-upon and bewildered secretary) adds some life to the last half of the picture in a few scenes of light comic relief.
While there is an effective level of suspense throughout, it becomes increasingly clear after the mid-point that no one on the production knows where the story is going or who the bad guys are or are not in league with. Once Jack arrives at Harry’s (Forster) apartment, the movie veers off into a series of scenes plagued by muddled motives and haphazard plot mechanics. The big action finale is ludicrous and feels completely tacked on. The film desperately needs a coda, especially after all of the financial, criminal and legal mayhem caused by Ford and co. throughout the story. It really needs a Simon Oakland type to come in and explain everything and let the characters off the hook, instead we get an unsatisfying fade to black.
Warner’s release of “Firewall” is the second title to be released in the DVD/HD DVD combo format (“Rumor Has It” was the first), which places a DVD version on one side of the disc and the HD DVD version on the other. The DVD side offers an excellent, perfectly acceptable 16x9 edition of the feature with a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. While the DVD side offers a typical high quality big studio recent feature release, the HD DVD side is much more detailed, offering pin-sharp detail, even in background foliage and in deep focus CGI backgrounds. A quick jump to the HD side after spot checking the DVD side, one initially sees only a slight difference in sharpness, but as you watch more of the film, you notice the extra degree of crispness, the pristine clarity and additional details in the photography, like the near tangibility of every rain drop (some CGI at that) that hits, merges with another and trickles down glass surfaces. It’s a cumulative effect that is impressive, though it’s much more evident on larger TV screens. The image transfer is near flawless, with a spotless transfer element and a rich, accurate color scheme, displaying the multiple shades of gray in the overcast rainy sequences and the bright colors of the daylight interiors. Put simply, the DVD version is superb, but the HD version feels like watching the same transfer but with your glasses on.
The HD DVD sound (DTS via Optical) feels infinitesimally hotter and punchier than the DVD track and gives the music and action effects a lot of effective presence throughout the home theater. While it’s not a highly directional film in terms of sound, loud sequences are given a huge amount of presence and weight because of their sonic placement. It’s a primarily front-focused mix, being a dialogue-driven film, but the surrounds are quietly effective throughout. Rain effects usually add a pleasing atmospheric presence when placed well in the mix and it rains nearly non-stop in “Firewall.” Dialogue is crisp and clear except for the aforementioned mumblings of Mr. Ford in the early scenes.
All the bonus features are encoded on the DVD side, which includes some “Superman Returns” preview material in the trailer build. The “Conversation with Harrison Ford and Director Richard Loncraine” featurette runs 16mins and is an excellent chat between them focusing on the confused nature of the production and they’re refreshingly candid about their tense relationship on-set. Most interesting of all is the note that Ford’s best scene in the picture is the result of a re-shoot and was Ford’s idea. The “Firewall: Writing a Thriller” featurette is a brief interview with writer Joe Forte who as research actually had friends in the military abduct him off the street as they would in a counterterrorism operation(!). What’s missing is any discussion of the constant rewriting and changes the script went through during production. Overall, it’s a stellar digital rendition of a rather average feature.