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August 16, 2013

How, in a movie with the title Paranoia, can everything be exactly as it seems? In a corporate espionage thriller, how can the multi-billion-dollar machinations of titans of industry be so simple and straightforward? Even if you make the argument that this movie tricked me after all by setting up the expectation of intrigue and then not delivering, it’s still a cheap cop-out, though not without a few bright spots.

I’ve thought hard about whether some of what I want to say counts as a spoiler. Can you spoil the lack of a surprise? I can see the argument, but the fact that certain narrative tensions simply fade rather than resolving is central to my complaints, so I’m going to go ahead with my explanations; be warned.

Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) is a young go-getting brogrammer from Brooklyn working across the river at a glitzy Manhattan technology company run by Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman). Or, he is until he mouths off to the boss during a presentation and gets fired. But hey, the corporate credit card still works so, pay off the mounting medical bills he’s run up caring for his father (Richard Dreyfuss)? Nope; $16,000 bar tab at an exclusive club and going home with a strange woman.

The next day, Adam is dragged back in front of Wyatt, who offers not to prosecute the theft if Adam infiltrates Eikon, the company run by Wyatt’s competitor — and former mentor — Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford). After some prep work with Wyatt’s brains (Embeth Davidtz) and brawn (Julian McMahon), Adam goes in for the Eikon interview, face-to-face with the woman from the club, Emma Jennings (Amber Heard).

Still, he gets the job and quickly catches Goddard’s eye. But Goddard isn’t the only one watching: Wyatt’s agents have eyes everywhere, keeping tabs on Adam’s progress. And there’s a mysterious figure floating around the periphery who claims to be from the FBI (Josh Holloway).

And the most surprising thing is that he is, actually, an FBI agent, and not part of a hidden layer of plot. Also surprising: Emma really is just a love interest and not a femme fatale, and her being at the club that night really was just a coincidence.

There is one plot development that’s positioned like a twist, but it’s only what has to happen to prevent this from being the simplest possible form of heist movie. Which approach, done well, could have been a lot more interesting than what we get, actually. Flesh out the security systems in the Eikon building and make Adam run the gauntlet, and maybe then we’ve got a movie worth watching.

But while the story is a disappointment, I should point out a few of the brighter spots, starting with Junkie XL’s tight house score. Oldman and Ford are both really fun to watch; Ford is getting to be quite the character actor in his later career. And what little we see of Dreyfuss, especially as he interacts with Hemsworth, just underscores how dramatically better he is at this than the young lead.

There’s undoubtedly a solid thriller built around the idea that They are watching everything — especially in this post-Snowden era — but Paranoia isn’t it. In fact, they made Enemy of the State fifteen years ago, and that works a lot better today than this movie does. When the biggest twist is that there is no twist, it’s safe to say not many people will be watching this.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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