What separated Adam Cassidy in Joseph Finder’s 2004 novel Paranoia from other characters caught up in deceit was his ability to make people want to root for him almost without reserve. Adam’s charisma easily translates to the screen in the entertaining, but flawed film Paranoia.
The credit is due the charming Liam Hemsworth as the ambitious young tech wiz recruited to spy on his boss’s archrival. Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) not only proves himself to be charming—and quite handsome—but also able to hold his own when pitted against his veteran co-stars, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford.
How charming is Hemsworth? Charming enough to be forgiven by his best friends, even when his actions put them in danger. Charming enough that the viewer is ready to give him another chance, even when he has made a pact with the devil.
Hemsworth may not be ready to take over the Indiana Jones franchise and he doesn’t quite have the villainy chops that Oldman has displayed so many times.
But this Australian-born actor is more than a pretty face. Although that face is pretty darn pretty. It runs in the family: Liam Hemsworth’s older brothers are Chris (Thor, The Avengers) and Luke (various Australian TV series).
In my review of Finder’s fourth novel, I said: “Although Paranoia is plagued with more than a few cliches, it’s easy to forgive the thriller’s flaws when the premise is so well executed, the action exhaustive and the characters realistically shaped.”
And that is exactly what is right—and wrong—with the film version. Yes, it is riddled with clichés and several plot holes.
But the film also is well executed and, even when you see a plot twist coming, you’re willing to go along with the ride.
Paranoia makes industrial espionage as exciting as any James Bond spy thriller, and more believable. In Paranoia, the fate of the world isn’t at risk—just two titans of industry.
Adam Cassidy (Hemsworth) and his equally brilliant gang of pals have devised a new phone that they think will set the world on fire.
But their presentation in front of their arrogant boss Nicolas Wyatt (Oldman) goes so badly the gang is fired.
It doesn’t help Adam’s cause that he comes to the most important meeting of their career looking like he just crawled out of bed and is late for a college class, or that he is so distracted by Wyatt’s seemingly lack of interest that he mouths off at him.
Adam still has his corporate credit card so he treats his buddies to a night on the town, spending $16,000 during one evening at a nightclub.
Wyatt calls that embezzling company funds and wants his money back, but Adam doesn’t have it. Plus Adam already owes some $40,000 for the care of his father, Frank (Richard Dreyfuss), because Wyatt’s company canceled his health insurance several days before.
But Wyatt has an option. Go to work for Wyatt’s former partner and rival Jock Goddard (Ford) at Elkon Corp. and steal his secrets.
Adam undergoes a metamorphosis from “bridge and tunnel guy” to a sophisticated sharp dresser. In what seems like a huge leap of faith, Adam is quickly recruited by Elkon and quicker than the latest phone can go out of style, he’s hired and in Goddard’s inner circle.
Adam also has acquired a girlfriend, Emma Jennings (Amber Heard, NBC’s short-lived The Playboy Club). They meet cute on the dance floor during that nightclub binge and have a one-night stand. By coincidence, she turns out to be the marketing director for Elkon.
Adam doesn’t quite realize how volatile the two tycoons’ lifelong feud has become. This isn’t just business; it’s a ruthless hatred that more than once erupts into violence. And Adam may be the collateral damage.
In the world of high-tech, it’s easy to become paranoid when it seems as if every aspect of one’s life is under surveillance. As Adam learns the true meaning of Wyatt’s comment that privacy doesn’t exist anymore, his apartment resembles a scene from the 1974 film The Conversation.
Oldman struts like a bantam when he goes up against Ford’s rabid fox. We instantly know that the sophisticated Oldman is the devil incarnate, from his too sharp clothes to a house surrounded by armed guards. Grizzled Ford prefers comfortable jeans and invites his staff to his airy home for a lawn party. But sometimes the devil wears disguises.
When Oldman and Ford go after each other, it’s like Air Force One all over again.
Australian director Robert Luketic showed a flair for comedy in Legally Blonde, Monster-in-Law, and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! Paranoia doesn’t concoct any new entries in the drama lexicon, but suspense is not out of Luketic’s wheelhouse. A late-night break-in to a secure floor in a high-rise office building mounts the tension, though the scenes aren’t exactly nail biting.
The film and novel version of Paranoia differ slightly—even the names of the companies have been changed. But the spirit of Finder’s book remains.
In the novel, Adam was an underachiever whose greatest talent was winning people over. He hated his job and his biggest achievement at Wyatt Industries (check on name) was charging to the company a lavish, unauthorized retirement party for one of the men on the loading dock. Adam ends up owing the company $78,000 for the party. In the film version, there isn’t even a loading dock in sight.
In the film version, Adam is an ambitious young man who wants “more” than he had growing up in the poor neighborhood of Brooklyn where he still lives with his father.
Both Adams contend with a dying father, but in the novel the father was cantankerous and verbally abusing. In the film version, Richard Dreyfuss’ Frank Cassidy genuinely loves and supports his son, and wants him to do the right thing. His only sin was working all his life as a low-paid security guard.
The change in Adam and his father in the film version work well. While Finder made us care about Adam, this “antihero” persona may not have transferred well to the screen. Hemsworth’s Adam wants a finer life—a better career, money, an upscale house, and that is easier to relate to in a movie.
Finder has proven himself to be one of the top thriller writers, turning the potentially eye-glazing subjects of industrial espionage into breathless thrillers. He recently signed a three-book deal with Dutton; his next novel will be Suspicion, due out next year.
Production notes: Rated PG-13; 106 minutes
PHOTOS: Top, Liam Hemsworth shows just how charming he can be; Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman's showdown; Ford, Amber Heard, and Hemsworth at Goddard's party; Oldman and Hemsworth in a battle of wits on Wyatt's armed fortress of a house; bottom, Hemsworth, Oldman and Embeth Davidtz after Adam has been changed into a sophisticated executive.
Photos courtesy of Relativity Media