Corporate thrillers just aren’t what they used to be. In the genre’s heyday, movies such as Wall Street and The Firm were really wish-fulfillment fantasies barely disguised as morality tales. Their post-2008-crash descendants, such as Margin Call, are more akin to disaster movies.
Which brings us to the peculiar Paranoia. Based on a nine-year-old thriller by Joseph Finder, this is an analogue thriller pitched to a fluid digital generation. Liam Hemsworth, the handsome star from The Hunger Games, plays a young tech whiz, Adam Cassidy, who gets blackmailed into corporate espionage while trying to support his emphysema-suffering dad (Richard Dreyfuss). Hemsworth has little of that brash edge that Charlie Sheen and Tom Cruise brought to their roles a few decades ago. He does take his shirt off a lot though; then again, in this emptily handsome movie, even the FBI agents and thugs look like Abercrombie & Fitch models.
The biggest problem is that Paranoia is a thriller for the wrong kind of business. Instead of the laid-back open-concept spaces of West Coast start-ups, we are placed in the rigid hierarchy of the New York financial sector, with high-rises, corner offices, tailored suits and oak-panelled private clubs, in businesses run by old guys.
The two big-shot tech rivals are played by Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman, though there is something to be said for poetic licence. Oldman, as Nicolas Wyatt, is a tart-tongued Cockney tough in a suit who acts as though his favourite contemporary technology would be a switchblade. Wyatt blackmails Adam into infiltrating a rival company, Eikon, run by Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford). Adam is carefully groomed for the task by Wyatt’s icy henchwoman, played by Embeth Davidtz (“I have a PhD in behavioural psychology”), who dresses him up in nice clothes and provides him with a gorgeous condo and hot car.
There’s a minor hitch when Adam discovers that Eikon’s head of marketing is Emma Jennings (the largely wasted Amber Heard), a recent awkward one-night stand. But soon he’s swilling champagne in the Hamptons with his new boss, Jock Goddard. As played by Ford, Goddard looks somewhat plausible, with a shaved head, glasses and casual clothes that evoke the late Apple chief Steve Jobs.
More importantly, Ford has some real fun in a silly role, pirouge
as a shrewd old puppet master who wants to whip these young upstarts. There’s a scene in a members-only club where Wyatt and Goddard meet, giving the two veteran actors the chance to go eyeball to eyeball for a couple of minutes of barbed dialogue. It almost makes the movie worth it.