One of the negative aspects of pop culture, which makes it a convenient target for critics, is that it is supposedly superficial and shallow. The advent of mass production and the global media made it possible for the introduction of artifacts, which are not necessarily deemed important, but are popular because of their appeal or power to amaze. Take for instance the Panda. It is a prominent fixture in the pop culture as opposed to the parasitic worms, which have greater practical importance. It is in this context where the movie Firewall suffers in the eyes of its critics for, indeed, Firewall, is a film that is made to entertain or even shock, more than any cultural attempt of significance.
The film is a technological thriller set against the backdrop of modern Seattle banking industry. The protagonist, Jack Stanfield was a successful bank security specialist working for a certain Landrock Pacific Bank. He was responsible in setting up and maintaining a superb computer system and firewall to protect his employer’s funds from fraud. This enabled him to live a successful life together with his architect wife and two kids. As such, it was finally shattered when a group of thieves, led by the psychotic Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), held his family hostage in their own house to secure Stanfield’s cooperation in stealing millions of funds from the bank he was working on. The attempt included the dismantling of the firewall he had built.
All in all, the story was based on the exploration of the technological vulnerabilities specifically the concept of the supposed invincibility of the firewall.
The standard formula for an action-thriller was there – the terror experienced by helpless victims, the bloodshed in some cold blood killings, the car chase, and the one-man crusade in facing an ordeal with almost insurmountable odds.
In the context of pop culture we start the analysis with the title itself – Firewall. At first glance, the word Firewall could have easily meant an idea with some explosive connotation, say, a terrorist induced attack, which reduced one wall of defense of that sort. But it is not. The Firewall here is within the same league of other Internet jargons such as Proxy Server or I.P. Address. IT specialists refer to it as that barrier “designed to prevent unauthorized or unwanted communications between sections of a computer network.” (Wikipedia) And this is what the title exactly meant. So for a very severe critic, this was a hint on how shallow the movie would turn out to be.
Enter the theme. Firewall was a story about a theft, plain and simple. Factors such as computing were merely used as a tool in an attempt to give the story a fresh take. The pattern employed was as good as a cliché and have been used by a remarkable number of its predecessors. For instance, the hostage element is not entirely a novel idea. It could have been forgivable if there were enough surprises in the scenes or dimension to the characters. For example, why wasn’t there enough hysteria in family whose lives are on the line? The human face of the movie lies here so it could have received enough attention. To discuss some relevant factors:
The modern technological development, the theme elaborated, covers even the art of thieving. So instead of 100% heart pounding action scenes we are treated to a showdown of IT specialists with their gadgets sharing the screen with gun-totting robbers. One of the battlefields for the hero and the villain was transported to the net via fiber optics. Perhaps, in its conception, this film banked on the curiosity aroused in people, for indeed firewall is a household name next to Windows, the Trojan Horse or any computer virus.
The dialogues and plot development lack the realism that comes out of a well-thought script. Hence, even with the remarkable attempts of the actors to deliver what they are expected to, it came on too shallow. But the pyrotechnics near the end, however implausible, did not disappoint – proof that entertainment is the priority here.
Finally, the choice of Harrison Ford and Ford’s choice to accept this movie, tell us much about how trends in Hollywood lean increasingly towards pop culture. Formula films, where profit is assured, takes precedence over culturally significant ones whose universal appeal should transcends time instead of a prevailing mass interest.
Of course, I could only speak for myself. My perspective is based on a person who has seen enough of these kinds of flicks that it is not hard not to be surprised anymore. This critique is limited on how the story is told since the film should be evaluated in the context of pop culture. The actors’ performances were not taken into consideration.
In retrospect, my critique on Firewall differs very slightly on the general sentiment of the movie critics. Even those who gave a favorable review on the film supports the idea that Firewall is an entertainment flick not one to feed your mind but one to feast your eyes on. As Roger Ebert said, “a movie that exists in the moment should either be seen in the moment, or not seen at all.” Well, that summed it all up.
Ebert, Roger. “Firewall” The Chicago Sun Times. 10 Feb. 2006
Firewall. Dir. Richard Loncraine. Perf. Harrison Ford. Paul Bettany. Virginia Madsen. Film. Warner Bros., 2006.
“Firewall.” Wikipedia. 16 June 2006 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firewall