mercury rising (film, 1998) ↔

mercury rising (film, 1998)

I had heard mixed things about the 1998 Bruce Willis movie Mercury Rising over the years but never got around to watching it until the other night when I saw it was available on Netflix. Having just finished watching it, I'd say it was an entertaining but flawed action thriller from that era.

The plot involves a young autistic boy named Simon (played brilliantly by Miko Hughes) who manages to crack an unbreakable code created by the NSA called Mercury. Fearing the exposure of such sensitive codebreaking abilities, the head of the NSA, Nicholas Kudrow (Alec Baldwin), orders Simon to be eliminated. An FBI agent named Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis) ends up intervening and taking Simon under his protection as he tries to evade Kudrow's assassins and determine why Simon's life is being threatened.

One element I felt the movie did quite well was the relationship between Art and Simon. Despite some of the ridiculous circumstances created by the strained plot, the chemistry and heart in their dynamic felt authentic. Bruce Willis brings sensitivity and care to his role that helps sell the motivations behind Art risking everything to protect this young boy. And Miko Hughes is phenomenal in his portrayal of Simon - he perfectly captured the nuances of an autistic child. Their scenes together were often the most impactful parts of the film for me.

However, many other aspects of Mercury Rising felt weak. The plot is extremely thin and nonsensical - it's very hard to believe that a government agency would want to eliminate someone with Simon's abilities rather than find a way to utilize them. Many layers of disbelief need to be suspended, such as how easily Art and Simon can evade highly trained assassins for the bulk of the film. The twists are telegraphed from a mile away and rely too heavily on coincidence and convenience. While Alec Baldwin clearly relishes his role as the antagonist Kudrow, his character is still a fairly one-dimensional "evil bureaucrat" that we've seen in many similar thrillers before this one.

Where Mercury Rising succeeds most is in its grounded character work - but the shallow and nonsensical plot really holds it back. When comparing it to others in the late 90s genre, like The Fugitive or The Firm, those films had narratives that made logical sense and kept you fully immersed. In contrast, this one constantly took you out of the experience with how contrived it gets. It also lacks the big set pieces and kinetic action chops of a Die Hard, making the pacing rather plodding at times in between the predictable plot turns.

Ultimately, I'd say Mercury Rising is worth watching for Willis and Hughes' performances alone. Still, it's a product of its time, given how dated and formulaic so many other elements feel now. The heart and nuance they bring to their roles are able to partially elevate the material, but not enough to make it stand out among the many other thrillers of that era that have held up much better. It gets points for attempting a thoughtful representation of autism as well, even if the vehicle itself is dubious. An imperfect but pleasantly surprising movie for a lazy night on the couch.