Harrison Ford does his best to carry a few duds throughout his career, and while Firewall is definitely on the mediocre end of his output, his presence plus a game supporting cast saves it from being a total misfire. He plays a hotshot security expert who designs a foolproof automated protection system for Big Bank, which icy evil mega criminal Paul Bettany and his team of assholes plan to rob the shit out of. Of course Ford didn’t put a feature in that deals with kidnapping, extortion and murder, but no one can see everything coming. Bettany & Co. hold his family (Virginia Madsen, Jimmy Bennett and Carly Schroder) hostage while forcing him to work his magic, break into the servers he designed and leave the proverbial back doors. Naturally, he covertly tries to subvert every tactic they use, doing everything from embedding secret code in the firewall to full on physically attacking them when no one is looking. It’s a pretty routine thriller that serves well as popcorn entertainment without breaking too much new ground. Ford is appropriately all scowls and snarls as he fights tooth and nail for his family, but there should be a clause in his contract that he gets to use the line “get off my airplane” in every film, but just slightly tweaked for circumstances. “Get off my server” it would read here, and somehow his grave delivery would sell it. Bettany is especially nasty in that soft spoken, clear eyed way that he’s patented, finding unique ways to torment this family involving peanut allergies and.. you can guess. The supporting cast is nicely stacked with people like Robert Forster, Alan Arkin and Robert Patrick as suspicious colleagues of Ford who don’t necessarily get to do too much performance wise but their presence always carries a weight in anything. Mary Lynn Rajskub aka Chloe O’Brien of 24 shows up as Ford’s trusty computer expert and hilariously just does exactly what Chloe does, parked in front of a computer hacking into shit, just in another film. Oh yeah Jaime Lannister also randomly drops by as one of the bad guys and gets possibly the best line of the film as Ford’s daughter laments “why do you hate us so much?!”, to which he almost sympathetically replies “I don’t hate you Sarah, I just don’t care about you.” It’s nice little touches like that that save this from being an entirely stale cracker.
Hostage isn’t just another Bruce Willis action movie. It is that, but a lot more and told in a unique, frightening way that evokes both horror films, impressionistic art and a European style of filmmaking. It’s frequently more intense than your usual Willis shoot em up too, the violence has a much more horrific impact and happens on a smaller, more intimate scale while the explosions take a backseat. Willis plays hostage negotiator Jeff Talley, a man who is haunted by a hair raising incident with a situation he failed to diffuse, as we see in a bleak, visceral prologue that lets us know exactly how grim and bereft of one liners the rest of the film will be. Relocated to small town California with his wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter (Rumer Willis, Bruce’s own daughter with Demi Moore), he seeks the quiet life, but naturally trouble begins to follow him in a spiralling set of dark turns and unfortunate events that lead to the case of his career and the night from hell. On a routine B&E call, Talley discovers that three white trash punks have taken over the home of businessman Kevin Pollak and his two children. Two of them are twitchy petty thieves (Marshall Allman and the reliably intense Jonathan Tucker) and are just out for valuables, but the third (Ben Foster, scary as fucking shit) is a sociopathic monster capable of terrible things, and the situation escalates from there. Little does anyone know, Pollak is involved in something far more dangerous than any of this, and soon a shadowy covert boogeyman called The Watchmen (Kim Coates, managing to still be terrifying behind a ski mask the whole time) has kidnaped Talley’s family as brutal leverage. It’s an intricate web of danger, heroics and violence that erupts like a flash-bang grenade and hits hard. Willis has never been better, you can see the open wounds in his soul bared through his eyes, and feel the weight of the situation crushing him as he races to find a solution. Pollak’s mansion feels like a labyrinthine death trap as the world’s most elaborate security system descends on those inside and shuts them in. Michelle Horn and Jimmy Bennett are terrific as Pollak’s resourceful kids, dealing with Foster’s unpredictable psychopath as best they can. The mood here is dour, savage and dark, with Willis’s fallen saint of a cop anchoring it all, it’s really some his finest work. There’s an austere score by Alexandre Desplat that accents the action with thumping passages in great sweeping master shots, and spikes the scenes of claustrophobia inside the house with uncomfortable rhythms. Director Florent-Emil Siri plays with an unconventional, surprisingly artistic palette and makes what could have been another routine action film seems somehow special, in all the right ways. One of my top Willis flicks, both in terms of his work and the overall film.