D: Robert Luketic / 106m
Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Amber Heard, Harrison Ford, Lucas Till, Embeth Davidtz, Julian McMahon, Josh Holloway, Richard Dreyfuss
When the final history of movies comes to be written, and all the various genres and sub-genres are assessed and valued, one type of movie will probably be given short shrift by its assessors: the industrial espionage thriller. In the real world, the cut and thrust of commercial enterprise, with often billions – and companies’ reputations – at stake, must play out with some degree of dramatic potential, but when it comes to the movies, this dramatic potential is all too often squandered for the sake of cinematic familiarity. And so it goes with Paranoia, a thriller based around the power play between two communications empires and the youngish would-be player who gets caught in the middle.
The player is Adam Cassidy (Hemsworth), an entry-level employee working for Nicolas Wyatt (Oldman). When a pitch to secure a position at Wyatt’s company fails disastrously, Adam decides to have one last splurge on his company credit card. $16,000 later, he finds himself being blackmailed by Wyatt into going to work for Wyatt’s long-time rival, Jock Goddard (Ford). Once he has Goddard’s trust and knows his way around the company, Adam’s task is to steal details of the new, revolutionary smart phone that Goddard is planning to release onto the market. Along the way Adam meets and falls for Emma Jennings (Heard), an executive at Goddard’s company. As Wyatt increases the pressure on Adam to get the info he needs, Adam must decide if the path he has chosen is the right one.
The problem with Paranoia – aside from the fact that the movie is mis-titled – is that we don’t care about anyone in the movie…at all. We’re supposed to feel sorry for Adam because his dad Frank (Dreyfuss) is ill and it’s a struggle for them to pay for the mounting medical bills. But Frank, who is on oxygen a lot of the time, continues to smoke; it’s this that gets him hospitalised and pushes the costs up. When Adam loses his job with Wyatt he doesn’t consider his responsibilities, he just goes out with his team and runs up a huge bill, another one he can’t pay. So when Wyatt blackmails Adam into working for him as an industrial spy, there’s no sympathy for him at all. (I wanted him to really suffer as the movie went on but Adam is the “hero” in the movie, so that only goes so far.) Even when Wyatt threatens to hurt Frank if Adam doesn’t go along with his plan, you’re left thinking “yeah, that’s fair enough”. Adam is a slightly older version of the ‘callow youth’ the movies like to put in peril every so often, but here it doesn’t work. He’s simply not a good enough person for the audience to get behind. Even when he begins to realise the real position he’s in, it’s still a case of “you got yourself into this mess…”.
As Adam, Hemsworth fails to make any connection with the audience, playing him as someone who thinks he’s smart but who actually hasn’t learnt anything in his twenty-seven years on the planet. Hemsworth is not the greatest actor in the world – watch how he tries to explain to Emma that he’s done some things he should have told her about – and there are times when the relevant emotion comes along a beat or two after it’s required, but as the character isn’t fully formed anyway – thanks to Jason Dean Hall and Barry L. Levy’s unconvincing screenplay – he does the best he can under the circumstances. Oldman uses an awkward mix of Cockney and mid-Atlantic vocal swagger as the keystone of his performance, while Heard, an actress who has yet to realise her full potential, is given little to do other than appear vapid and superficially strong. It’s Ford who impresses most, although that’s not saying much; he’s saddled with some of the most turgid dialogue this side of Star Wars (so he’s probably used to it), but at least he puts some energy and commitment into his performance, even if it counts, ultimately, for nothing. In a supporting role, McMahon exudes icy menace as Wyatt’s enforcer, Meechum, but Davidtz, as Wyatt’s PA, looks embarrassed throughout.
The direction by Robert Luketic is low-key and close to pedestrian, while the photography offers an almost wintry, subdued look that matches the downbeat aspects of the storyline and the grubby nature of the proceedings. The script struggles to add depth or texture to both events and characters, and the outcome can be seen from a mile off (you could even say it was phoned in). As a thriller, Paranoia never really hits the mark, and as a drama it’s too undercooked to be effective. Everyone involved has done better elsewhere, and probably will do again. What matters here is whether or not a hundred and five minutes of your time could be used doing something better instead.
Rating: 5/10 – an unimaginative thriller that goes through the motions for most of its running time, Paranoia never engages its audience or provides a way in to become involved; a shame then considering the talent taking part.