The Sum of All Fears

By now, it is impossible to reconcile Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan movies and novels. His novels are notoriously expensive to film, and the movies came out of order and skipped a novel or two along the way. The adaptations usually are different enough from the novels, but still retain much of the suspense and inherent action present. This one is no different. The Sum of All Fears is the latest Clancy novel to come to the big screen, this time with Ben Affleck (Changing Lanes, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) as Ryan (after Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford). This pushes the Ryan age down a couple decades and throws a whole new twist on his role in the film. Fears is about domestic terrorism, and involves a large nuclear explosion on American soil, so watching it may feel unnerving at times. But hey, it's only a movie and its release is coincidence to things happening in the real world.

Although it feels unnecessarily complicated, the adaptation by Paul Attanasio (Sphere, Donnie Brasco) and Daniel Pyne (Any Given Sunday, Where's Marlowe?) is actually pretty straightforward. A fascist is trying to manipulate the United States and Russia to go to war against each other. He is using a nuclear warhead lost over Israel decades ago, so it is not accounted for in current arms counts. Ryan is the only person who suspects that something is amiss, while President Fowler (James Cromwell, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Space Cowboys) and his advisors want to retaliate against Russia. Ryan wrote an internal paper on the new Russian President Alexander Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds, The Weight of Water, The Mayor of Casterbridge), so CIA director Bill Cabot (Morgan Freeman, High Crimes, Along Came a Spider) takes notice and asks for his advice. Ryan believes that Nemerov is only trying to appease hardliners, so he is all talk. Devastating actions would indicate otherwise, and things quickly spiral out of control, testing the limits of mutually assured destruction the way that only Clancy can. The complications come when the script tries to prolong events or add drama.

The Sum of All Fears is satisfying as an action movie. There are big special effects, lots of explosions, and lots of fighting. Since the book is over a decade old, some of the of political situations feel a little out of date, even with updates (references to Chechnya and such) by director Phil Alden Robinson (Freedom Song, Sneakers). Moreover, the hard part of adapting a Clancy novel is to summarize everything so that it fits into the timeframe of a feature film. He has so much going on in his novels that this is sometimes difficult to do. Robinson chose to present everything in a straightforward manner. One problem with this is that much of the suspense is gone. It is clear that the Russians are not the bad guys. The one bad guy (Alan Bates, The Mothman Prophecies, Gosford Park) just kind of sits there and orates every once in a while. This leaves much of tension to Cromwell and Hinds, who, for the most part, successfully teeter on the edge of World War III.

As Jack Ryan, Affleck has huge shoes to fill. By shifting the age so that Ryan is now at the beginning of his career, Robinson capitalizes on one of Affleck's strengths, which is looking lost and clueless. Whether or not this is intentional, this is how he comes across in some of his movies. It works here because Ryan is out of his element. He is an analyst; a person who collects data and writes reports. Here, he must take a proactive approach, and step out of his office and into the line of fire. The Cathy Muller (Bridget Moynahan, Serendipity, Whipped) is a throwaway, there only to provide a humanizing element to the Ryan character and to provide continuity in potential sequels. Everybody else is a little one-sided, so that things can go as far as they do.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 4 minutes, Rated PG-13 for violence, disaster images and brief strong language.

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