THE SUM OF ALL FEARS was the fifth Tom Clancy doorstop/Jack Ryan novel. This is the fourth Ryan movie. Ben Affleck the third guy to play Ryan. None of this is important, and neither is the movie, a competent, unexciting, professional, forgettable, clock-ticking-save-America payday for the studio and by default, the Defense Dept writ large. Neo-Nazi terrorists get hold of an Israeli nuke (like the ones they never admit to having, tsk tsk) and use it to threaten both Russia and the U.S., playing them off against each other. With much filler and assorted complications, a few killings, lots of cabinet level arguing, and a city that gets blown up to keep you awake. That sequence, with unlucky Baltimore, works to good effect, and is actually underplayed (its a nuclear bomb—how grotesque are the film-makers really going to get and still have viewers?). The movie was a big hit in its 2002 release, ironically no doubt buffered by the paranoid mood after the Sept.11 attack, but it’s all kinda old-hat and tiresome.
Hurting it, and coming in for a barrage of criticism, is leading man Ben Affleck, just too young and cocky to accept in the footsteps of previous Ryan’s Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford (plus, their stories were better, so there!). He gets able support from Morgan Freeman, Alan Bates, James Cromwell, Liev Schrieber, Bruce McGill, Philip Baker Hall, and almost as an afterthought sop for protesting girlfriends dragged to the theater, Bridget Moynahan. Best is Ciaran Hinds as the intelligent, wary Russian President. Jerry Goldsmith music backs it. Phil Alden Robinson directed the 124-minute $68,000,000 affair, which brought back a fear-stoked $194,000,000.
A foundational moral/philosophical problem I have with this film (and remember, as I play smartypants, that I can blush-free enjoy Ambush at Tomahawk Gap and sleep like a baby), with this type of film, with the Ryan canon, with Clancy & Co. is the under-girding beneath all the labyrinthine plotting, the whizbang weaponry and the reasonably skillful dissection of bureaucratic infighting: our National Security aims are always for the good.
My version of no-mercy logic says anyone with half a wit who believes that balderpucky deserves the people they vote for. It’s one thing to root for James Bond because, aside from being the Godfather of international asskickers, his gig is an obvious fantasy, as are his supervillains, so you allow yourself to accept Thunderball ,et al on their own terms.
This “Free World Is At Stake Without Vast Spending and Well-Meaning Ruthlessness” stuff is rather harder to digest. Yes, there are bad guys, and no, I’m not a dang Commie, thank you, but c’mon already with the rah-rah. Since I don’t swallow most of these supposed real-life premises, let alone their pretext, there is little suspense in wondering whether Ben will prevail. I now leave the room.