The Sum of All Fears
Collector's Edition, Special Collector's Edition
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Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell. Rookie CIA agent Jack Ryan returns to find a stolen nuclear bomb before it's too late in this thrilling tale of suspense and intrigue based on Tom Clancy's novel. 2002/color/123 min/PG-13/widescreen.
- The Making of The Sum of All Fears
- Creating Reality: The Visual Effects
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Jack Ryan was a role that seemed to belong to Harrison Ford in the other Clancy films, but here that role is assumed very well indeed by Ben Affleck. He is capably assisted by Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Bruce McGill, Liev Schreiber and Philip Baker Hall along with a large cast of supporting actors. They give it their all and make this film work on every level. For solid entertainment this is a film that deserves repeated visits. Grady Harp, December 11
The Sum of All Fears, the fourth entry in the Jack Ryan film series, may be perhaps the hardest to assess objectively.
Viewed purely as a stand-alone action thriller, Sum of All Fears is an above average effort, ranking just below Executive Decision and way above Under Siege 2. In spite of a tight budget, Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams, Hackers) delivers a post-September 11 cautionary note about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and the acting by Ben Affleck, James Cromwell, Morgan Freeman, L. Schreiber, and the others in this ensemble cast is top-notch. While certainly not flawless, Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne's screenplay doesn't try to insult the audience's intelligence by going the James Bond route and having the hero stop the detonation of the bomb and catching the bad guys on his own. And one has to admire the production staff and cinematographer for maintaining the illusion that this movie does indeed span three continents when it was actually shot mostly in Canada (with the California desert briefly but convincingly doubling for the Middle East).
Viewed as a Tom Clancy adaptation, however, one is left to wonder why Mace Neufeld - the producer who bought the film rights to Clancy's fiction - couldn't have made this film earlier while Harrison Ford was still interested in the Ryan role. As I have said in earlier reviews of these Clancy-based movies, screenwriters have an almost impossible labor when they adapt a thick Clancy novel into a 120 page screenplay. What makes Clancy's novels compelling to his fans - the large storyline with subplots and secondary characters that are developed further in other novels - doesn't always translate well to the silver screen. This is true of every Clancy novel-turned-into-film, but the novel that has been altered the most has been Sum of All Fears, and the changes are pretty radical.
As most of Clancy's readers are aware, the novels' progression has mostly been centered on Ryan's rise from CIA analyst to (albeit accidentally) President of the United States. The Sum of All Fears (the book) is the mid-journey transition, where the events at the end will lead to the searing climax of Debt of Honor. By taking Jack Ryan back in time to the start of his CIA career (and by pretending the other movies don't exist), Neufeld, Attanasio, Pyne, Robinson (and to some degree Clancy himself, since he has an executive producing credit here) have made a hash of this idea. To what extent Harrison Ford's loss of interest in the Ryan role was involved I can't say. I am merely a movie watcher and not an insider (otherwise my reviews would be in the papers and not here gratis), but although Affleck is acceptable as a replacement, Ford's reliability, maturity, and steadiness are sorely missed. Not only that, but by setting the story in 2002 (albeit in a Tom Clancy parallel universe where George W. Bush has been replaced by Robert Fowler), gone is the near-end-of-the-Cold-War urgency that made the novel so suspenseful. (In one of those bizarre coincidences or flukes of history, the hardcover was released a few days before the failed coup against Gorbachev back in August of 1991!)
Not only that, but the novel's cast of villains (an ex-East German terrorist, an ex-Stasi officer, an insane Native American criminal, several radical Palestinians, and a secret supporter) has been replaced by, Ach du lieber Gott, a group of neo-Nazis! Yes, Alan Bates makes a dapper and almost charming Nazi...in a sense he fares better here than Gregory Peck's hammy performance as Josef Mengele in The Boys from Brazil. But although I could buy the premise of Black Sunday with Nukes in the novel and could see the blind spot of the villains' plan (okay, the nuke explodes and the USA and USSR wipe each other off the map...and radiation and fallout ruin the northern hemisphere), but in the novel the characters are so bent on revenge (one is dying of cancer anyway, so he doesn't care about the aftermath) that the fatal flaw of their plan is not evident. Bates' Dressler, however, surely knows - as do his other apparently rich, educated, and old colleagues - that a nuclear exchange between America and Russia will also harm the Europe he is supposedly doing this insanity for. Anderson says (in the making-of featurette) that the change of villains was forced on the writers by the lack of plausibility of the book's weird mix of German, Native American, and Palestinian conspirators. I think Paramount and Neufeld simply feared criticism from Arab-Americans here and international audiences abroad, particularly in the wake of 9/11.
Other oddities in the film involve the military details. How does that Russian Backfire bomber squadron find that American carrier on its own? Why is the carrier shown to be almost defenseless? In the real world, that carrier (USS Theodore Roosevelt, from her CVN 74 pennant number) would have had an F-14 combat air patrol up, as well as a ring of escorting cruisers and destroyers. How do the Russians know that B-2A Spirits have taken off from Aviano AB in Italy (they would have been based in Whiteman AFB in Missouri, but never mind)? And just what kind of radar do the Russians have that can spot a B-2 anyway?
Still, the movie does work, quirkily. It has some really good bits, particularly the scenes with its two leading actors, Affleck and Freeman. Scheiber is actually a more interesting John Clark than the somewhat villainous looking Willem Dafoe (who played Clark in Clear and Present Danger). James Cromwell, too, fares well as the frazzled President who, when push comes to shove, almost cracks under the strain of the crisis that the Neo-Nazis have unleashed.
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