A better title for PARANOIA (2013), the new thriller starring young hunk Liam Hemsworth and old favorites Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman, might be POTENTIAL, or perhaps PERIPHERAL.
That’s because there’s a lot of potential here but the story never gets to the heart of the matter, instead choosing to remain on the sidelines where things are never as interesting. It’s a movie where the sum of its parts is better than the whole.
PARANOIA tells the story of twenty-something Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) who’s trying to make it in the world but is disillusioned by the trend of the past decade, where it seems the older generation is holding all the cards and his generation just can’t seem to catch a break. Not only is Adam struggling to take care of himself, but he’s also caring for his retired dad Frank (Richard Dreyfuss) who’s suffering from emphysema and needs in-home medical care. Matters are made more complicated when their health insurance cuts their coverage.
Adam works for a high tech software company, and his “break” comes when his employer, the unscrupulous Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) catches him spending company money on a very expensive night on the town. Rather than press charges, Wyatt offers Adam a deal. He wants Adam to infiltrate and spy on his former mentor and chief competitor, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford) so they can steal his trade secrets. Adam knows this is illegal, but he’s driven by his need to pay his dad’s medical bills and his desire get ahead, and so he says yes to the deal. Of course, it beats going to jail, so he doesn’t really have much of a choice, does he?
So Wyatt and his staff provide Adam with special training, and when Adam meets Goddard he’s able to impress the tycoon and get a high level position almost immediately. Along the way, he woos the beautiful and ambitious Emma Jennings (Amber Heard), who also works for Goddard. In fact, part of the plan is for Adam to steal Emma’s security clearance in the company and use it to get the information Wyatt needs. Some boyfriend!
Of course, this is a thriller, and Goddard is no fool, and so things don’t go as planned. Suddenly, Adam finds himself in the middle of a power struggle that could cost him and those he loves their lives.
PARANOIA is done in by a weak story that never goes for the throat nor gives us enough details to make it a winner. The screenplay by Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy is based on a novel by Joseph Finder, and I would guess that the novel is better than the movie. There is a lot going on here, and it’s the kind of story that could be told very easily in novel form. In a movie, or at least in this movie, it’s all rather rushed and glossed over.
For example, Adam infiltrates Goddard’s empire so easily it’s ridiculous. One brief meeting followed by a successful proposal and suddenly Adam has the keys to the company. I didn’t find this believable at all.
The love story between Adam and Emma doesn’t really work either. While they do share some nice onscreen chemistry, Adam totally uses Emma and really takes advantage of her, and yet later, we’re supposed to believe that she’s still interested in him? Really? He stole information from her that he used to rob their boss. We’re not talking ignoring phone calls here. I just didn’t buy it.
Harrison Ford’s Jock Goddard and Gary Oldman’s Nicholas Wyatt are both very interesting characters. I wanted to know more about them and wished the movie had spent more time developing them. The potential is there for Goddard to be a nasty villain. Wyatt is developed a little bit more, but ultimately he comes off as a foolish loser rather than the suave genius that he seems to be at the outset.
A thrilling triangle between Goddard, Wyatt, and Adam never really happens, and that’s because the characters aren’t fleshed out to the point where we understand them completely and believe in them. The characters just go through the motions, and as a result, the story never rises to an exciting level.
PARANOIA does have a strong cast, but they’re stuck in a story that doesn’t do them any favors. Still, it’s the cast that keeps the movie from being a total turkey.
Liam Hemsworth is actually quite good as Adam and makes for a solid lead. I bought into his character’s motivations, and I believed them.
I also liked Harrison Ford a lot as Jock Goddard. Goddard is a decent villain, and I like the fact that Ford is playing roles lately that seem to be outside his comfort zone. His performance here in PARANOIA follows upon the heels of his excellent work as Branch Rickey in 42 (2013).
Gary Oldman is also watchable as Nicholas Wyatt, although ultimately his character isn’t as smart as he’s first made out to be. Oldman fared much better in the DARK KNIGHT trilogy as Commissioner Gordon.
Amber Heard, who I remember being the best part of the Nicholas Cage actioner DRIVE ANGRY (2011) is excellent once again here, although she’s stuck in a rather thankless role. Her Emma Jennings should be up to the task of fending off Hemsworth’s Adam, but instead she’s reduced sadly to being simply the love interest. She’s stunningly gorgeous, and I hope she gets better roles in the future.
Richard Dreyfuss as Adam’s dad Frank gets to enjoy a couple of fine moments, but Josh Holloway (Sawyer from TV’s LOST) is lost in a throwaway role as FBI agent Gamble. He’s about as integral to the story as that guy sitting in the background at the dinner table. A shame.
Director Robert Luketic adds little in the way of cinematic vision with this one. The story starts out fairly interesting and remains mildly so throughout, but things never get as down and dirty as they should, and as a result it’s not a very effective thriller. It plays more like a tepid drama.
The title PARANOIA refers to the paranoia of the main players, Wyatt and Goddard, who are supposed to be paranoid out of necessity, in that they can’t trust anyone in order to stay on top, but strangely, this plot point is only touched upon peripherally and is hardly used at all. Very strange considering the movie is called PARANOIA.
PARANOIA has a nice cast, and they all do their jobs well, but it’s not enough to make this one worth your while.