The film opens with a hostage situation in South Dakota where FBI Agent Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis), who, as the inside man, protects a 11 year old kid named James while trying to talk a bank robber named Edgar Halstrom (Richard Riehle) into surrendering.
However, the FBI task force kills the robbers and James. Jeffries confronts his superior, Hartley, who tells him he’d report to Washington. An infuriated Jeffries punches Hartley for that and for James’ death.
A cryptographic code called “Mercury” was created by the National Security Agency and allegedly so complex that its creators believe no computer on Earth can decipher it. Originally it was created during the Reagan Administration as a test to keep the United States’ highest priority secrets under wraps.
One day, the NSA receives a message from a nine-year-old autistic savant named Simon Lynch (Miko Hughes) who calls a telephone number written in the code which was secretly published in a puzzle magazine by two of the creators, Dean Crandell (Robert Stanton) and Leo Pedranski (Bodhi Elfman), to see if anyone could break it.
Crandell and Pedranski’s division chief, Lt. Colonel Nick Kudrow (Alec Baldwin) sees the boy’s ability to decipher the code as a liability and rather than rectify the problem adequately, instead plans to silence Simon, sending a hit man, Peter Burrell (Lindsey Lee Ginter) and his partner Shayes (Peter Stormare) to murder the boy and his parents, Martin (John Carroll Lynch)and Jenny (Kelley Hazen).
After killing Martin and Jenny, Burrell searches the house, fails to find Simon, and leaves at the sound of approaching sirens (Martin was able to call 911 before dying). Jeffries, who has been demoted following a diagnosis of delusional paranoia, is sent to investigate what is initially thought to be a murder-suicide of Simon’s parents.
While investigating the scene, Jeffries finds Simon hiding in a cache of his bedroom closet and takes the boy under his wing. Jeffries begins to realize the difficulty of protecting, let alone questioning Simon, because of his impaired social abilities as a result of his autism, but the Chicago PD agree to assign a protection detail to Simon.
Character to watch: Bruce Willis as Art Jeffries.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?