Jack Ryan movies started with a bang on THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER,
I loved Alec Baldwin. I loved how that film played out. Then those Harrison Ford /
Jack Ryan movies let me down. They had their moments. They would be amazing for sequences, but overall I found them to be disappointing and droll. So how on Earth could Ben Affleck be the savior of Tom Clancy’s franchise character?
Well the secret weapon wasn’t Ben Affleck, it was director Phil Alden Robinson and screenwriter Paul Attanasio.
It seems that Phil Alden Robinson (director of FIELD OF DREAMS, SNEAKERS and the premier episode of BAND OF BROTHERS) and writer Paul Attanasio (screenwriter of QUIZ SHOW, DONNIE BRASCO and SPHERE) didn’t know they were churning out another tedious film in a dying series.
They didn’t realize that people thought the Jack Ryan series was dead. Or maybe they did.
Maybe that’s how made one of the best Spy films period. Now I don’t know, maybe Clancy’s original book was fantastic. I don’t know, didn’t read it. But I know people were griping about adaptation issues and the changing of Ryan character, the juggling of the bad guys and the period issues. However, that baggage was not with me when I saw this movie last night at an extremely advance screening at the Cinemark (bleh) Theater in South Austin.
Father Geek, Massawyrm, Patch, Tom Joad and Airwolf were all there. I seemed to be the only person extremely jazzed about seeing the movie. I suppose they hadn’t really paid attention to the sterling reviews for the movie that had been popping up online.
Certainly the posters for the movie make it look extremely cheesy. The trailers didn’t really convince anyone, but it was those damn reviews that had me jazzed. I went in just wanting to see a good Jack Ryan movie. That’s pretty low expectations really.
I wasn’t taking in THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, THE IPCRESS FILE, FIVE FINGERS, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL or THE PARALLAX VIEW. For my money, those are my favorite spy/thriller films in history. The James Bond films are basically their own thing. I’ve always considered them separate because they don’t feel real to me. Bond isn’t part of reality, he’s a fantasy. He’s the dream of a spy, not the reality. But Quiller, Joseph Turner, Joseph Frady, Ulysses Diello and Sgt Harry Palmer are all honest and scary characters occupying a world that I fear I may be a part of.
The existing Jack Ryan movies that have existed so far have all lacked peril and humanity for me. Meaning, they were films that ranged from being terrific (HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER) to tedious (PATRIOT GAMES) but never made me feel that what was happening had anything to do with the world I was in.
Perhaps September 11th has made me hypersensitive to world events, but frankly I’ve always been a newshound. Living on CNN and the internet. I might not agree with Matt Drudge’s politics, but I live and haunt his website like a maniac thirsting for the latest story to drop in.
First off, the biggest difference between this Jack Ryan movie and all the others is this one is perfect. It is sort of like in 1931 they made THE MALTESE FALCON with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade… Didn’t work. Then in 1936 they made SATAN WAS A LADY, renamed Sam Spade as Ted Shayne and cast Warren William in the role… Still didn’t work. Then in 1941, along comes John Huston. He hadn’t directed anything at that point. But he had been a prolific screenwriter with specifically two absolutely wonderful films under his belt… SGT YORK and HIGH SIERRA (much like Phil and his two previous directorial highlights, SNEAKERS and FIELD OF DREAMS) and then he’s given the keys to major character and he just knocked it out of the park with the classic telling of Sam Spade and THE MALTESE FALCON. BAM! Just over the centerfield wall.
Now, this SUM OF ALL FEARS isn’t THE MALTESE FALCON. The dialogue isn’t that quotable. However, it does share many other commonalties with that best literary adaptation of a popular pulp character.
THE ENSEMBLE CAST.
SUM OF ALL FEARS is not just a Ben Affleck film. It isn’t even just a Morgan Freeman movie. The movie is filled with character actors in their peak conditions. James Cromwell’s President Fowler was wonderful. Philip Baker Hall was great as usual. Live Schreiber, an actor I’m not usually a fan of, was absolutely captivating. Colm Feore delighted in his role as an amoral son of a bitch of an arms dealer. Michael Byrne is fantastic as a right hand associate with the equally fantastic CiarÃ¡n Hinds as the Russian Leader. Alan Bates is perfectly restrained as the Fascist leader. Bruce McGill is also very strong in a smaller role. In all an amazing cast that just completely realized this world.
Now the keys to this movie are with Morgan Freeman, Ben Affleck and Bridget Maynahan.
Let’s start with the best actor of the bunch, Morgan Freeman. Morgan has been playing the sage older wise man ever since SEVEN. In fact I’ve become quite sick of it. The CHAIN REACTIONs and DEEP IMPACTs and NURSE BETTYs and KISS THE GIRLS and HIGH CRIMES and ALONG CAME A SPIDERs have all blended together to make this remarkably bland run with some relative highlights… notably NURSE BETTY which was a wonderful twist on the character, but in SUM OF ALL FEARS, Morgan puts the type to rest. Giving the character he’s been playing extremely well that final touch it needed to be perfect. Morgan isn’t the main course of the film, but he is the seasoning that flavors the overall film. His character is the keystone to the rest of the film. All the characters are joined by his movements. FANTASTIC.
Next is Ben Affleck and Bridget Moynahan. This is the budding romance of Jack Ryan’s life. This is that key moment where he first emerged from the library and stepped out into that bigger scarier world beyond. I haven’t seen Ben Affleck this solid in a film since CHASING AMY. He feels real. He feels confident in the role. He is completely unfettered by Harrison Ford or Alec Baldwin’s turn on the character. He isn’t following them, he’s preceding them. His character came first, not them. Jack Ryan isn’t the seasoned pro. He is a young bright historian researcher. In a way, very much like Robert Redford’s ‘reader’ in 3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR. He’s charismatic and absolutely on the ball, but still uncertain about this new world he finds himself in. However, he deals with it. He endeavors to survive it. Through it all he is distracted by the fact that he is newly in love… at the early stage where he knows he’s found the person Jack wants to spend the rest of his life with. Where he wants that moment, that life to begin in the second to second that he is living, but another side of his life pulls him away from that. And you feel that it might be too early to let go, because he doesn’t believe that the connection between the two of them is strong enough to weather the storm that he finds himself in. It is a place in time and life that is an absolute human connection.
Doing these things he is doing, could cost him a life with this new and wonderfully fulfilling person he has found, but at the same time… He’s put in the position of basically… Saving the world as he knows it, and he knows that he has to do that. Not for all those people out there, but because he wants to secure his way of life, his liberty and his pursuit of happiness.
Bridget Moynahan is great in that she isn’t hovering at some television set following his actions. She’s a nurse. She has her own life, her own responsibilities. She isn’t hovering over children wondering about their daddy. She isn’t knitting in a chair beside a fire looking at his empty seat. She is living her life, hoping that it may have a future with Jack Ryan, but… well life happens.
In all the cast is extraordinary in the film.
John Huston’s work on MALTESE FALCON was simply perfection. Every scene, every movement by a character was used to advance the story, establish atmosphere and tone and character. He was completely serving the story.
Phil Alden Robinson has crafted one of the absolute best spy thrillers ever made. From the way he established the settings, to the way he fills you with dread and hopelessness, to the GODFATHER II moment (you’ll know it) this was cinematically charging. This film is absolutely captivating. Never really doing the expected. Avoid all SPOILER REVIEWS and realize that they do exist, so don’t read the talk backs. The movie was so good I wanted to smoke a pack of cigarettes afterwards, and I don’t smoke.
A great film, great entertainment and great work. HOORAY! I want to see more films like this told this well and performed at this level. That would be a happier world!
P.S. This goes out to the few TalkBackers that can't read... The common element from MALTESE FALCON and SUM OF ALL FEARS is that they are both the best tellings of their mutual star characters and stories. MALTESE FALCON is the best Sam Spade movie. SUM OF ALL FEARS is easily the best Jack Ryan movie. Also, to the idiot that thought I was comparing this to GODFATHER II... What part of "to the GODFATHER II moment" do you not understand? A moment, like in GODFATHER II. As in... A MOMENT. Hint, it is prior to the Jack Ryan in the grass off of Pennsylvania Ave. scene... Actually it is a montage technically speaking, but very GODFATHER II-esque.