Architects in Movies 04 – Firewall

While everyone else was watching the Oscars, I was continuing my series of reviews of movies in which the protagonist is an architect. As a reminder, I have settled on a model popular with many architecture professors, which goes like this:

  1. Develop a set of categories specific to the project
  2. Rigorously apply numerical rubric based on satisfaction of program, interaction with context and relative strength of the work with respect to precedent set by similar projects
  3. Disregard numbers, assign arbitrary grade

In this way, the grades are equally meaningless for everyone which imparts a kind of perverse fairness.

Here are the categories and points scored by Firewall, released in 2006, starring Harrison Ford and Virginia Madsen. Jack Stanfield (Ford) runs tech security at a mid-size bank. When a thief wants to rob said bank, he kidnaps his architect wife, Beth (Madsen) and two kids for leverage. Will Jack rob his own bank to save His Wife! His Family!? Will Beth use her architect knowledge to plot a Great Escape? Find out in Firewall.


Virginia Madsen is in the middle of a fast-track project (“I have to finish the details on the Morgan house since we are pouring the footings today”): +400m


Multitasking Multiplier! “I’m also …”

  • “finding a guitar teacher for Sarah”: x1
  • “paying some bills”: x2
  • “schlepping the kids”: x3
  • “taking care of you (smooch)”: COMBO BREAKER

Harrison Ford is cast as an IT Specialist in 2006: -63 years


Beth needs a lot more notes on those building sections: -A400


Needs to “finish details”; constructs a perspective drawing by hand: -2 points


Beth is kidnapped, immediately seizes opportunity to catch up on sleep: +40 winks


Minus one point for every extra bedroom in the house Beth designed for her family: -4


How long it takes Jack’s son to develop Stockholm Syndrome over pancakes: -13 hours


Jack is head of IT, has email, still dictates letters to his secretary: -49 cents

Character who gives access to the vault says “open sesame” as her ‘thing’: -40 thieves

Jack trusts his whole security operation to something he bought from the Dell Dude: -420


Jack uses a fire extinguisher as a weapon: +10 ABC

Beth designs her house to have a secret passage through the crawlspace: +24in

Beth covers the end of her secret passage with utility shelves: -10

Critical components of Jack’s account-stealing contraption:

  • Scanner head: +300dpi
  • iPod: +mp3


Everyone has their own computer, uses same default Windows background: -32bit

Mary Lynn Rajskub’s character provides technical and field support to a gray-haired man named Jack:  +24

The final piece of the puzzle is a GPS locator on a dog: +K9

Number of loose ends at the conclusion of this movie: -at least 6

Total Score: 571

First, I’ll say this movie stretches my definition of having the “protagonist” be an architect. The architect is a secondary character. But she’s well represented in most ways. She’s a multitasker, she’s quick-thinking, she thinks long term. There is the fact that she designed her own house (see my conclusion for Indecent Proposal for more thoughts on that), but she is old enough and probably has enough money to do so, and she designed something that might have some resale value. She’s a lot more believable as an architect than Ford is as a tech guru, that’s for sure (hashtag ageist). As a movie, it weirdly holds up. This was made at a sort of in-between place for technology, where “green text on black screen” was still shorthand for “being in the mainframe”. But it also got a lot of stuff right. It seems believable today. In fact, it’s so believable as to be boring. Like, why would a bank robber kidnap and kill for a few million dollars? Just hack Target. Or crash the global financial system and have the government bail you out (hashtag topical hastag TheBigShort hashtag snubbed).

Final Grade: C-

All images from the film are used under fair use for parody and criticism.


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