Firewall: thriller for the infosec crowd

This article is reposted from an article I wrote for The Technique (official site, Wikipedia article), published on February 10, 2006. (html, pdf).

When one hears the name Firewall applied to a movie, one tends to think of a plot line and action sequence akin to Swordfish. Not many movies have really explored the workaday nerd, and Firewall takes a typical drama/action script and rewrites it with believable modern-day IT professionals.

Sure, Firewall doesn’t have any gratuitous shots of Halle Berry’s breasts, but it makes up for it with incredible fight scenes and a cohesive plot line. The movie’s climax was one of the best scenes filmed in years. The protagonist would have given Neo a run for his money.

Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) is a computer security professional working for Landrock Pacific Bank, designing cracker-proof financial systems. He’s got a young wife and two children; they live in an expensive home outside of Seattle.

Over the last 20 years, Jack has designed and updated the security system protecting his bank and appears to be wealthy as a result. There’s one gaping hole in his security he didn’t consider, though. He never protected his system from himself.

The movie starts slowly, with an interesting opening credit style that’s half elusive spy, half console typing. The intensity picks up after Jack meets Bill Cox, a sophisticated white-collar criminal posing as a banker who is looking for a business opportunity.

Cox (as Jack calls him) and his henchmen kidnap Jack’s family and force Jack to work on stealing $100 million from the Landrock Pacific Bank. Jack’s only reward is (promised) freedom for his family.

Over time, it appears that Cox has no intention of leaving any loose ends, including his henchmen. Interestingly, these “henchmen” appear to be normal Tech-style nerds. One is interested in the architecture of the Stanfield home; another shows sympathy towards the family but can’t help them.

Our focus returns to Jack working against the clock to break into his own impenetrable system. Firewall begins to earn the “R” rating for violence here, particularly when Cox executes one of his henchmen for making a mistake. After the heist is successful, Jack begins to find holes in the criminals’ plan.

After Cox disappears with his family, Jack starts to take control of the situation. Meanwhile, Cox’s body count slowly grows, although Jack’s family remains (mostly) unharmed. This is the best part of the movie, although they do tend to rely on the fabled “just make stuff up” premise to tie together some of the plot elements.

For someone who’s been waiting for a good movie with an original plot, an extra helping of violence, ass-kicking and perhaps a bit of fun technology, Firewall is a solid bet.

However, for someone who doesn’t like seeing people die or is not a fan of the psychological thriller, then maybe not so much. From the moment that the family is kidnapped until the intense climax, you’ll be enraptured and on the edge of your seat, not knowing who will live or who will meet a violent end.

Andrew Guyton

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