Thursday, February 26, 2009
Firewall. Feature film. (2006, 105 mins) IMDB
irewall is a thriller wherein robbers use computers to rob a bank of $100 million. Physically it's the only way to rob a bank of that amount of money. Remember GOLDFINGER?
Firewall is also a computer term used in computer security. It's a commonplace word yet not fully understood and never explained or used in the movie. Odd given that's the name of the film.
Harrison Ford plays the VP of Security at a bank based in Seattle. They didn't do a very good job of setting the location. At the beginning I thought we were in NYC. Later it's obvious it's the west coast and more specifically British Columbia. Constant rain plays a large roll in this movie.
That reminds me of an early scene in the movie. It's pizza night. Our hero calls his wife to say he'll be home a bit late. He calls around five in the evening yet it's pitch black outside. If it's that dark out then it's winter and there is no sign it's winter. Just something that struck me as I watched.
Firewall is also a term used in fighting forest fires which is relevant when living in BC. Lots of forest fires. A firewall creates a patch of land devoid of burnable material. It's set deliberately to stop the advance of a fire. Sometime it works and sometimes it doesn't. I have no idea why I just wrote that but there it is.
The film is classically structured. Set-up. Inciting incident. Act I ends. Act II. Act III with climax and resolution.
In the setup we learn our hero is a whiz when it comes to computers. How? People come to him for answers and in seconds, with a few keystrokes, the problem is solved. You have to love movies where anything is possible. We also learn that his job is risk management. It's to stop hackers and others from trying to gain access to the banks computers.
He's also the dutiful father with kids he loves and a wife he loves and blah-blah-blah. Quite a typical setup, yet it's important because his wife and two children are held hostage.
It's always a challenge to write these set-ups because nothing is happening. The filmmakers want the audience to see a caring, loving husband and his beautiful family. Someone worthy of respect and caring otherwise the rest of the movie is meaningless. So, we get an overdose of sugar and it's not interesting. The solution? Have it in the morning when everybody is rushed to get somewhere. That is, it's chaotic. Second. The teenaged daughter is insolent to everyone around her and the younger brother is rambunctious. That's fine, there's a level of conflict, but we've seen it so many times as to be boring. Literally boring and predictable.
The solution is a different story based on the same premise, but more on that later.
So. We've set up a family. Now we need a bad guy. He's played by Paul Bettany. If you watched THE DA VINCI CODE, you'll remember this actor. He plays the leader of the group involved in robbing the bank. The first step is to kidnap the wife and children. They are held hostage in their own home.
There was an interesting moment when the criminals begin to setup shop. An image includes shoving boxes of frozen TV dinners in the freezer. That's planning. They did their homework. It got me thinking about some of the tactics hostage negotiators use to wear down their adversaries. Cut off the electricity. Bring a gas-powered generator. No water. Bring lots. No food. Bring a freezer filled with frozen food. And a microwave oven. All of it powered by your own generator. Just a thought.
The bad guys have set-up shop in the home where the family is captive with no where to go. Enter our hero and the realization about what is happening. He spends the rest of Act I asking what the bad guys want, but we already know. They want to use his security access and knowledge to rob the bank of $100 million. Take the money in $10,000 chunks from 10,000 different accounts. You do that and we'll leave.
There are all sorts of issues to overcome. Security cameras a the bank. A computer system that has changed because a convenient bank merger taking place. A co-worker who is on our hero's ass.
What follows from that point is predictable. I wasn't surprised by any of it.
I was interested in the fact they used clearly recognizable images on the computer. There are two aspects of this. First, so many movies use Apple computers. So many Apple computers you'd think they were the number one seller, but of course that's not the case. Most people, like me, use computers with Intel processors and Microsoft operating systems. It's just the way. That's especially true in businesses such as the setting for this movie. Second, the programs and images shown on movie computers are stylized and created for that movie and don't exist elsewhere. In this movie, what we see does exist. I can use it. You can use it. That adds a level of realism and believability. It may seem like a small thing, but in this type of movie where the essence of the robbery is that it could really happen, it's important. And yes, this robbery could happen.
Now for the rewrite. The film as it exists is entirely predictable and therefore devoid of tension, devoid of suspense. Suspense isn't just anticipation of what will come, but what might come. Despite the fact the writer et al have brought new ideas, based on technology, to create a story, the formula is the same. Even if we know what will happen in the end, and we do, the how is then the question, but even here the how isn't spectacular.
How to make it better? The wrongly-accused story. Same hero with less emphasis on the family although it's exists. He has the same job and function. The villains want and do steal $100 million dollars but our VP Security is the one blamed for it all. How does he prove his innocence? He does he catch and trap the villains?
Same premise, but different story. It's more interesting because the solution is less clear. It's more interesting because the obstacles he has to overcome are more challenging. He'd be taken to worlds he's not used to. That's a movie I'd like to write and watch.
A couple of more thoughts.
Virginia Madsen. Yummy.
Set-ups. If you're going to use "the gadget" to solve a problem later in the film then it's got to be setup or so the thinking goes. Hence, the interference with the boy's remote control device on video screens and the reference to the dog's collar. Both were set-up early in the film and used later. I don't agree or disagree with this logic except to say it depends. Most of the time it has to be setup because "the gadget" used to save a character in a scene is new to the audience, but if it's something we'd expect in a given situation that no set-up is required.
Posted 2009/02/26 at 17h53ET in Movie Commentary.