The Cold War heats up again when a renegade terrorist brings a warhead to mainland America, tricking the Yanks into thinking that the Ruskies are up to no good. Only CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck) holds the information that can stop nuclear war.
At first glance, Ben Affleck looks like a poor swap for Harrison Ford as the new Jack Ryan — a bit of a magic-beans-for-a-cash-cow kind of deal. In fact, so little does this Jack resemble the CIA hero of Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger (or even Alec Baldwin in The Hunt For Red October), that one wonders why the producers didn’t just rename the character and be done with it.
But political times have changed, and this is the first Tom Clancy adaptation to hit screens post-September 11. Affleck’s Jack Ryan is way down the CIA pecking order from his illustrious predecessor; but that’s the very point that the film is making.
Ford-as-Ryan was so high level, he wouldn’t be the solution — in the modern world, he’d be part of the problem. It’s the geriatric, old-boys’-network style of government that brings the world to the brink of war here.
Affleck-as-Ryan represents the new blood needed to drag the system into the 21st century. Political prejudice and dinosaur diplomacy within the U.S. Government are as much the enemy as renegade terrorists and an unknown Russian president.
The new Jack Ryan trades in information, not punches, and it’s his specialist knowledge that will save the day. The fact that he has to be quickly decked out in a jacket and tie the first time they drag him in to meet the chiefs of staff just underlines how out-dated and by-the-rules the old guard has become.
Most American critics didn’t warm to The Sum Of All Fears. Underlying the action is a politically responsible attitude that flies in the face of Stars And Stripes jingoism. The nuclear missile at the centre of the story was supplied to the Israelis by the Americans back in the 1970s: one day, the film is saying, all your military back-door dealings will come back to haunt you.
That’s not a popular argument in a country that refuses to link the World Trade Center attack with U.S. interventions in the Arab world.American audiences sent the film up the box office charts, however, and there’s no reason why it won’t work over here too. Underneath the political plot points is a nail-biting thriller that brings the Cuban Missile Crisis bang up to date.
Even when, in the later stages, the action has to rely rather heavily on phone calls rather than face-to-face encounters, the pace picks up and we’re guaranteed a tense, exciting climax.
Think about the details too much, and it all begins to unravel. But let contemporary political paranoia suck you into the story, and the reality of the threat to Baltimore will shock as surely as those TV pictures of downtown New York last September.
As a thriller that relies on brain rather than brawn, this matches earlier Jack Ryan movies.