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Permit me to recommend Firewall, the new Harrison Ford film. I did not expect to like it very much; I was drawn primarily by the interest of seeing what Virginia Madsen would do (more on that in a moment). But director Richard Loncraine surprised me. Working with a Joe Forte story that shuns plot-padding red herrings as nimbly as it does the predictable setback of action-stopping police custody, Mr Loncraine quickly aroused my concern for Jack and Beth Stanfield. I was sitting on the edge of my seat more or less throughout the film. Although there is nothing surprising about Mr Forte's brew of heist and hostages, Firewall treats the Stanfields and their two children as real people.

Jack Banfield is the security chief of a large bank that has just been swallowed by an even bigger outlet. Unhappy with the new team, he is ready to consider an offer presented by Bill Cox - and terrified to discover that the offer has been timed to coincide with the capture of his family by Cox's team of hackers and tough guys. The deal that Cox really wants Jack to work on is the robbery of Jack's bank. Except that it is not really a deal; Jack realizes early on that Cox intends to leave a lot of dead bodies behind when he gets his money. Firewall does not reverse the tradition of Harrison Ford's film endings, but it keeps you wondering.

Amazingly, Mr Ford is a believable Jack. There are critics who feel that the actor never does his best work in a suit, but Firewall may be an exception. (To tell the truth, I think he's pretty great in Working Girl.) During the first half of the film, when is Jack is tethered by microphones and cameras to Cox's surveillance system, Mr Ford looks uncomfortable, not to say constipated, and every hour of his sixty-four years. Once Cox has his money, however, the years fall away, and Mr Ford is rejuvenated by the challenge of foiling his adversary. He faked his way around the hard- and software with totally convincing aplomb.

As I say, I went to see Virginia Madsen. Until Sideways, Ms Madsen seemed to have had a career that went nowhere from her somewhat brainless turn as Princess Irulan in David Lynch's Dune, swishing about in bogus ball-gowns and delivering sententious voice-overs. (A look at IMDb demonstrates, however, that the actress has been very busy.) In Alexander Payne's movie, she displayed a quick-witted earthiness that I found really endearing, and the same quality is on display in Firewall. There's no question that her Beth is Jack's equal; she carries off the additional role of being an architect capable of designing the showplace in which much of Firewall takes place. And she has chemistry with Harrison Ford. "I don't deserve you," says Jack at the beginning. "No, you don't," Beth with a loving smile, and you sense both that this is true and that Beth is perfectly happy about it.

That Paul Bettany makes a dashing villain ought to surprise nobody. Looking more like Tab Hunter than ever, he is a joy to detest, and when he gets his comeuppance the blow is highly satisfying. My only complaint is that the film ended too soon thereafter. There ought to have been a nice, rehabilitative scene with his trusty secretary, Janet (played by 24's Mary Lynn Rajskub).

For what it purports to deliver, Firewall is super-duper entertainment. Don't let the critics misguide you.


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