Film: Mercury Rising

Mercury Rising is a 1998 action thriller film, based on the novel Simple Simon (1996) by Ryne Douglas Pearson. The novel was actually a sequel of October's Ghost (1994) and Capitol Punishment (1995) which both feature the main character Art Jefferson. Renamed "Art Jeffries" for the film. The film was directed by Harold Becker, previously known for such films as Malice (1993) and City Hall (1996). The main stars were Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, and child actor Miko Hughes.

The novel was based on an Urban Legend: "that secret military intelligence codes were sometimes leaked to the public in puzzle magazines to see if civilians could crack them." The film begins with a Hostage Situation in South Dakota. FBI Agent Art Jeffries (Willis) is the Reverse Mole within the villains' ranks. He is trying to convince the others to surrender while protecting a teenaged boy. However the FBI task force attacks and kills both the robbers and the boy. Art confronts his superior and ends up demoted. Further, his psychological evaluation reports him as suffering from "delusional paranoia".

Elsewhere, 9-year old Simon Lynch (Hughes), an Autistic Idiot Savant, manages to break the code in a puzzle magazine and finds a telephone number. Which he innocently decides to call. He has just, unwittingly, broken cryptographic code called "Mercury", created and used by the National Security Agency (NSA) since the Ronald Reagan Administration (term 1981-1989). The code was allegedly so complex that its creators believed no computer on Earth can decipher it. But two of them, Dean Crandell (Robert Stanton) and Leo Pedranski (Bodhi Elfman), had decided to put this to the test. They had published the code in the magazine to see if anyone could solve it. Unfortunately for all involved, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Kudrow (Baldwin) sees the boy as a liability. He sends Hitman Peter Burrell (Lindsey Lee Ginter) to take out Simon and his parents. He already has plans on how to deal with the security leak.

Burrell kills the parents but fails to locate Simon, who was hiding in a closet. The police and FBI briefly investigate the crime scene, though they incorrectly identify it as a murder-suicide. Jeffries locates Simon and takes the boy under his protection. However the boy is unable to explain what actually happened and the authorities are not particularly inclined to protect him. Jeffries is convinced that Simon is still in danger and takes matters into his own hands. Kudrow manipulates events to discredit Art and have him charged with kidnapping. Art has to crack the case, save Simon and protect his own reputation. He finds allies in fellow agent Thomas Jordan (Chi Mc Bride) and friend Stacey Siebring (Kim Dickens). He also receives unexpected help by Emily Lang (Carrie Preston), the girlfriend of the already assassinated Pedranski.

The film was a modest box office hit, its wordwide gross estimated to 93,107,289 dollars. About 33 million of these dollars came from the United States market, where it was the 61st most successful film of its year. It received mostly negative reviews, dismissed as an uninspired action film with stock situations. Willis won a Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Actor for three of his 1998 films: Armageddon , Mercury Rising and The Siege. On the other hand, Hughes was praised for his realistic depiction of autism and won a Young Artist award.

This film provides examples of:

  • And This Is for...: Art to Kudrow, during their first meeting.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Art and Simon.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Art trying to really piss off Kudrow on purpose, by ruining a sizable portion of his wine collection.
  • Dawson Casting: Simon Lynch is supposed to be 9-years-old. He is played by 12-year-old Miko Hughes.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: How Burrell dies
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Invoked to show how evil Kudrow is. He is more concerned and upset about losing a sizable portion of his wine collection when Art is trying to upset him than ordering the death of several people.
  • Disney Villain Death: Kudrow, though he had been shot before falling off the building.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Kudrow. It says something when he's more concerned about his wine collection than killing an autistic kid.
  • Idiot Savant: Simon Lynch. Just to show to the audience how good he is, he is seen solving a jigsaw puzzle from the blank, reverse side.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Lomax
  • Professional Killer: Peter Burrell.
  • Rare Guns: Burell's preference for expensive high-end foreign handguns becomes a plot point when Art points out during the initial investigation of Burrell's faked murder-suicide of Simon's parents why a low-wage worker would buy a $1500 dollar handgun just to kill himself and his family.
  • Revealing Coverup: One autistic boy knows how to break your code, and has thus far only informed you that he knows it. Was trying to kill the entire family really the best solution they could come up with?
  • Took a Level in Badass: While Art and Kudrow are duking it out on the roof, what does Simon do? He risks falling off the roof of the building just so he could hand Art his gun back.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Nicholas Kudrow would not hesitate in ordering the deaths of just about anyone, all in the name of the Security of the United States.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Neither Nicholas Kudrow, nor Peter Burrell find killing a child abhorrent.