In his last screen outing, 1994’s Clear and Present Danger, Tom Clancy’s heroic spook Jack Ryan was promoted to Deputy Director of the CIA. Eight years on, he has inexplicably been demoted to the role of humble junior analyst, possibly because he has lost a good two decades off his age and is now embodied by hunky Ben Affleck instead of haggard Harrison Ford.
But if Ryan has gone backwards, the world has most definitely moved on. The setting is the present and a nuclear warhead has fallen into the wrong hands, namely those of a group of terrorists funded by a neo-Nazi industrialist played by Alan Bates. ‘Hitler was stupid,’ he opines. ‘He fought American and Russia, instead of letting them fight each other.’
He plans, therefore, to detonate the nuke on US soil, setting the bomb off in Baltimore during the Super Bowl. The Russians will shoulder the blame and, before you can say, 'Dr Strangelove', the former Cold War enemies will be involved in a devastating nuclear exchange. Naturally, the only person who can prevent Armageddon is Ryan.
Of course, Clancy never would say, 'Dr Strangelove'. Plodding and earnest, The Sum of All Fears couldn’t be further from the cynicism and darkly comic lunacy of Kubrick’s film. Director Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams), however, is suitably po-faced and handles the action efficiently. Affleck, too, is solid, if lacking in charisma, but his scenes with his doctor girlfriend (Bridget Moynahan) fail to spark. Ryan’s rapport with his mentor, CIA Director William Cabot, played by the ever-dependable Morgan Freeman, carries more emotional weight.
The Sum of All Fears is one of the best political thrillers this year and one of the best Tom Clancy adaptations in a long time. While it's not the Jack Ryan we know, this new incarnation does no diservice to the original trilogy and is a tense, suspenseful but ultimately enjoyable film with some pretty spectacular special effects.
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