MOVIE REVIEW: PARANOIA
An adaptation of Joseph Finder’s best seller of the same name, Robert Luketic’s PARANOIA is a riveting, taut, tense thriller. With the same page turning excitement and intrigue as found with Finder’s book a decade ago, director Luketic and screenwriters Jason Hall and Barry L. Levy draw one deep into a web of corporate espionage and intrigue that is not only timely and topical, but will have one looking over their own shoulder at every moment of the day and night. Upping the ante from the original story of a telecommunications battle to the high tech world of 2013, PARANOIA seamlessly melds thematic issues of surveillance, privacy and individual freedoms in a battle between corporate titans and innovators where everyone, and everything, can be a game changer. And when it comes to titans, you can’t do much better than Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman.
Adam Cassidy and his best friend and co-worker Kevin are the new breed when it comes to innovation and development of information technology. Working for the legendary Nic Wyatt, Cassidy and company believe they “see” the future much as Wyatt and his former partner, Jock Goddard, once did decades ago. Unfortunately, fueled by their own egos, Wyatt and Goddard went their separate ways with each creating their own corporate super powers setting the stage for a now lifelong titanic rivalry fueled by rivalry, greed and hatred. Wyatt and Goddard were, and still are, the gods of technological innovation, but times change and one must keep up with the times if one is to remain high atop Mount Olympus; and that means tapping new blood, young blood. Adam knows this and through an R&D program at Wyatt, has the opportunity to present the latest in technological connectivity as designed by his team to Wyatt himself with the hope Wyatt will embrace the concept and give the team the go ahead for full development.
A blue collar boy by any definition, Cassidy lives with his dad in a small rowhouse on a cobblestoned street that harkens back some 200 years. His dad, now ill and requiring in-home nursing care, spent his life working as a security guard to put a roof over his family’s head and food on the table. A proud man, Mr. Cassidy believes in the human touch, human connection, and has a hard time wrapping his head around the technology that fascinates and consumes Adam and his drive for “success.”
Knowing that Wyatt will be doing backflips over the new device designed by Adam and his team, he is more than crushed when Wyatt is less then impressed and unceremoniously sends the team from the board room. Angry and defiant, and against the advice of Kevin, Adam does a **** you to Wyatt by taking the team for an expensive night out on the company credit card. Needless to say, Wyatt finds out and is less than pleased, firing Adam and his team. With no job and no insurance to pay for his father’s care, not to mention some unhappy unemployed friends, Adam is at a loss as to what to do next. But Nic Wyatt has a solution.
Demanding restitution and recompense for Adam’s monetary sins, Wyatt makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Go work for Jock Goddard at Eikon Corporation. Spy on him. Find out what “secret” technology and device Goddard is working on that has the tech world abuzz. Steal the secrets and the device and deliver them to Wyatt and all will be forgiven with Adam and his friends all rehired at Wyatt.
But all is not what it seems and it doesn’t take long before Adam is caught in a dangerous game of cat and mouse between the two rivals, a game that turns deadly for everyone, begging the question, where do you turn when your every move, every thought, every word is being watched and recorded; who do you trust; in what can you trust?
As Jock Goddard, Harrison Ford is at the top of his game. Duplicitous, charming, riveting, empowering, commanding and raging, Ford is chameleonic, showing us a side of him and level of performance we’ve never seen. Able to turn on a dime, Ford dazzles, especially when going toe-to-toe with Gary Oldman’s Nic Wyatt. As Wyatt, Oldman infuses a “street cred” or “sheep in wolf’s clothing” by leaking in twinges of a poor man’s Cockney accent while he argues about the temperature of tea and holding his teacup properly. Surrounded in high tech architect, modern art and design, Oldman looks the part of a wealthy tycoon but adds a shade of “the suit doesn’t quite fit.” Ford on the other hand, always retains an old school persona and look, casual, no trappings, simple tastes, simple look, barefoot at home picnic style timelessness. Doing what no one has managed to do since Ford and Oldman starred in “Air Force One”, director Luketic has reteamed the pair for what he describes as “20 years of pent-up GRRRRR between them.” Each man soars, captivating and commanding the screen individually and then dueling for supremacy when together. With each man clearly relishing his role, the dance is superbly delicious.
Although clearly designed to allow Ford and Oldman to shine, as Adam, Liam Hemsworth holds his own against not only them, but Richard Dreyfus who plays Adam’s father, Frank. Somewhat uneven in Hemsworth’s performance is his dynamic with Amber Heard. As Goddard’s right hand, Emma Jennings, Heard is a necessary element to the story, serving not only as Adam’s entre into the inner workings of Eikon but his love interest. Heard is adequate. Lucas Till brings a calming quiet surprise to Kevin that serves as great balance to Hemsworth.
A welcome scene-stealer and heart-tugger is Richard Dreyfus. As the grounding essence of the film, while everybody is disconnected from humanity and the human touch in order to get connected through technology, it’s Frank Cassidy who remains practical and prescient. According to Luketic, Dreyfus was on board after one phone conversation. “[Frank] is the voice of reason is a world that sometimes to us appears insane. We all have that one person in our life. It’s usually a parent. It’s usually someone who, like again, someone with foresight whose been able to look at things and assess things.”
An absolute delight is Julian McMahon. Besides being a fellow Aussie, Luketic cast McMahon because “He can be scary. Totally scary.” As Wyatt’s right hand henchman, Meechum, McMahon is at his demonic menacing best. Joining him in the Wyatt camp is Embeth Davidtz. Bringing her patented tone of duplicity to the role of Dr. Judith Bolton, with Davidtz in play, you know something’s coming and it’s probably not good but you never know what it is.
Directed by Robert Luketic and adapted for the screen by Jason Hall and Barry L. Levy, one of the greatest challenges of bringing Joseph Finder’s novel to the screen was bringing the story into the present, into this new age technology and incorporating that into the dialogue and the structure of the film, as well as adding spin appeal. “We kept the structure, and if you remember in the book, it was more like a Verizon versus an AT&T. It was more about telecommunications and specific technology. Given what we’ve just been through with the legend that was Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, we thought that perhaps they were more relatable figures, if you will, than just anonymous phone companies. . .That would have been not as sexy and exciting as two innovators who are actually making these things and planning to create a huge, if you will, what the NSA has created - a bank of every email, every phone call, everything that is you.” Playing into this theme is the dynamic of the paired characters of Nick and Jock and then Adam and Kevin. Adam and Kevin are clearly the younger version of Nick and Jock but it is left to the audience to decide their fates. Never do the filmmakers ease up on the tension and excitement making every move by each character a palpable heartbeat.
Expanding on the story process, you get no argument from Luketic that “[I]t was a challenge. There was lots of hair pulling out moments. We needed to consult with people. So we consulted with people who work in Secret Service of foreign countries, and people within our own law enforcement. It was really fascinating to get a handle on that. We wanted everything that we attempt in the movie to be feasible; the hacking, being able to turn on peoples’ phones remotely and accessing their microphones. This is all stuff that we have the capability of now and, in fact, people are doing this right now.”
Capitalizing on the concept of "the more we connect through technology, the more we disconnect with life" PARANOIA is mind-goggling and fascinating as a commentary on the implications of what it says about the world in which we live. Given the current NSA revelations and Eric Snowden, the timeliness and topicality of PARANOIA are touchstones the world over. Where the script may raise some eyebrows, however, is the ease at which some corporate maneuvering occurs with seemingly no questions asked. Narrative by Hemsworth’s Adam aids in providing backstory and necessary exposition.
David Tattersall stuns with his beauteous cinematography as does the VFX department. Razor-edged, super-saturated, sleek, gleaming and high-tech but then juxtapositioned against the warmth and softness of the Cassidy home. Particularly impressive is the lensing of the multi-floored apartment of Adam Cassidy making extensive use of stark black and white contrasts complemented by stainless steel and chrome which adds to the depth and texture of the visual tone. Beautifully lensed is the house that would be Goddard with dark heavy woods and an old-world dark umber sensibility.
Adding to the ambient tone of PARANOIA are the locations as Center City Philadelphia and the suburb of Whitemarsh Township and Ambler substitute for New York. With everything from 17th & Locust to the G Lounge and 10th & Manning showcasing the texture of Philadelphia, serving as “The Wyatt Building”, headquarters to Gary Oldman’s Nick Wyatt, the Kimmel Center was “really wild” and a “great spot” that allowed Luketic’s production designers, David Brisbin and Melissa Stewart, to showcase architect Rafael Vinoly’s building design.
But it’s another of Vinoly’s designs that really captured Luketic’s attention - the famed Arbor Hill Estate in Ambler. Enamored with the “incredibly beautiful properties” in the area, and needing a location that had the look and feel of a “high security training facility” for Harrison Ford’s Jock Goddard, Luketic lucked out with Arbor Hill. Iconic to the area, the “stone fortress” as it is called, “. . .was the last location [and] it was the hardest location to find. We were looking at photos, we were looking at Larry Korman’s house. . .But we heard that there was this house on the market. It was very fortress-like and very iconic and somewhat imposing. It doesn’t scream warmth when you see it. We went out to it and just as we were coming up the driveway I said, ‘This is it!’ You know straightaway when you see it.”
Shooting in Philadelphia also adds it’s own bit of historical irony and reference to PARANOIA given that thematic elements of this film are so much about the loss of freedoms, an individual’s rights and privacy, all of which were hard-fought some 240 years ago on the very streets and grounds where the film was lensed.
Significant to the production design is a partnering with Georgio Armani. A first for Armani to be involved in a film, PARANOIA producers and Luketic were “very seriously looked for a partner, not just like ‘give me a chair or a lamp.’ I want a significant partner who can come in. We have this amazing space to decorate, so let’s show your things and I’ll shoot them in a beautiful way.” And Luketic does.
Another historical touch of authenticity to the production design comes in the form of ham radio. Significant to the story and character line development, vintage Heathkit ham radios and others make a well-worn and appreciated appearance within the Goddard manse.
Original music by Junkie XL is pulsating, high energy, driving forces that fuel the adrenalin rush that power and money can bring. It also serves the rapid pulse and heartbeat of Hemsworth's character as he tries to survive.
Non-stop intrigue that will have you on the edge of your seat, PARANOIA connects on every level.
Directed by Robert Luketic
Written by Jason Hall and Barry L. Levy
Cast: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Richard Dreyfus, Liam Hemsworth, Amber Heard, Lucas Till