A nuclear bomb is lost. Someone finds it 20 years later. Happens every day, right?
Tom Clancy’s 1991 novel, The Sum of All Fears, makes a strong statement about the amount of nuclear weapons all over the world. The book discusses nations that serve as superpowers and questions who would benefit if they wiped each other out.
Although the film borrows most of its source material from the Cold War conflict, the film doesn’t seem dated when viewed in a post-Sept. 11 state of mind.
In The Sum of All Fears, the fourth film of the Jack Ryan series, the filmmakers dramatically reduce the age of Clancy’s perennial hero and cast Ben Affleck in a role held once by Alec Baldwin and twice by Harrison Ford. Here, Ryan is a 29-year-old historian working for the National Security Administration who gets a special assignment with the CIA when Russia elects a new president about whom Ryan is an expert. Of course, what good is a political thriller if the United States and Russia aren’t on the brink of nuclear war?
That scenario plays out after a nuclear explosive tears into a U.S. city in an attempt to assassinate the president.
But not before Ryan spends half the film risking his life to discover who controls the lost bomb now and what they plan to do with it.
It is during the first part of the film where Ryan’s background is explained, including the courting of his future wife Cathy (Bridget Moynahan), as well as the beginning of his relationship with super-spy John Clark (Liev Schreiber).
For viewers of previous films based on Clancy’s writings, this will be a bit confusing. Especially since the story takes place after all of these small details occur. Which, of course, will surely infuriate Clancy’s fans.
So why was Ford replaced in the first place? Granted, it’s been eight years since Clear and Present Danger – the third Jack Ryan installment – and all lasting franchises need a breath of fresh air every now and then. But if Ford isn’t too old to make another Indiana Jones, why can’t he play Jack Ryan? Sure, Ryan is 29 in Fears, but Hollywood has never been shy about re-writing a script to suit a well-known star.
Either way, Affleck is suitable here. The intense, dramatic scenes give him an opportunity to scream at and plead with the president (James Cromwell) not to nuke Russia. Although the actor said he wasn’t trying to imitate Ford, even the way his forehead wrinkles is reminiscent of the aging everyman.
Unfortunately, Morgan Freeman’s presence as CIA boss Bill Cabot is wasted here. As mentor to Affleck’s character, Freeman gets a few jokes to tell early on and a few opportunities to give way to dialogue and relish in snickers and sneers when his Cabot is amused by Ryan’s wiliness.
As far as comparing it to Clancy’s other film adaptations, Fears stands on its own – as it must to not confuse storylines – as an intense drama with a powerful underlying message.
Although the film’s trailers and TV-spot advertisements give too much of an intense scene away (you can figure out for yourself which one), the unexpected tragedy still hits closer to home than any movie scene showing the World Trade Center or some other distracting reminder of Sept. 11.
And when viewed today, The Sum of All Fears may become the first serious feature film to make audiences question where entertainment ends and depiction of reality begins.
For those fears alone, the filmmakers should be commended for going through and releasing what will certainly be a controversial film this summer season.
Contact William Albritton at email@example.com