for violence, disaster images and brief strong language.
as Jack Ryan
Philip Baker Hall
The Sum of All Fears was basically two movies in one. Pre-bomb and post-bomb. The first hour played out very slow and deliberate, while the second half became very disturbing and too close to real life. Before the events of 9-11, this movie may have been sheer entertainment, but in this day and age, it played out like a documentary on what might happen if...
Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck) works for the CIA. He's basically a paper man - he writes a lot of reports. But when the Russian President suddenly dies and a new, almost unknown takes power, Ryan is shoved to the forefront because he wrote a paper on the new President Nemerov and supposedly knows him inside and out. But there are other factions at work, including a Neo-Nazi faction built on taking the U.S. and Russia to war and destroying each other, so that they may take power. Soon after Nemerov takes power, a chemical strike is made against Chechnya. Did Nemerov give the order to strike? He knows he didn't, but he takes the blame anyway. To the U.S., it's a warning sign that Nemerov might be willing to go all out to bring the old U.S.S.R. back to power. Meanwhile, the far-reaching Neo-Nazi group has taken control of an old Israeli nuclear bomb, and is planning on detonating it in the U.S., and blaming the Russians. When the bomb goes off in the middle of a football game in Baltimore, followed by a Russian strike against a U.S. ship, the President of the United States must decide whether to go to an all-out nuclear war against Russia, and effectively destroy the world. Only Jack Ryan knows the truth, and its up to him to try and bring both sides down from the brink of war.
I don't think it's giving away anything by saying that the nuclear bomb does go off during the movie. The previews basically give that one away. The bomb marks the two halves of the film. Pre-bomb and post-bomb. I'll look at them each. Pre-bomb the movie is very slow. It sets up the characters, with Jack Ryan and Bill Cabot (Morgan Freeman) as the two main guys within the CIA. We travel all over the world following the re-making of this nuclear bomb that was part of an Israeli fighter plane that was shot down almost 30 years previous. At times the movie got a little confusing, trying to figure out who was who, and who was working with whom and trying to separate the good from the bad. Frankly, I was getting a little bored, wondering if anything was actually going to happen. There wasn't a lot of action, other than the requisite love story between Jack and Cathy (Bridget Moynahan). Which by the way, served almost no purpose in this movie, other than having an attractive woman on screen. I never got a feel for the characters, although I do love Morgan Freeman, and I felt Affleck held his own in the role. The President (James Cromwell) came off as a little slow and a little dumb and his advisors came off as controlling the President. Whether that was meant to be a shot at our current President... well at the time the movie was made I'm sure it was, but in this time it's not patriotic to make fun of the President anymore (thankfully that seems to be coming to an end. I mean, when was the last time we had a President that was this easy to make fun of? Gerald Ford?). Then came the bomb.
The explosion came from almost nowhere. We knew the bomb was in place, but when it actually went off it came as a little bit of a surprise. And while we didn't see thousands of bodies lying in the street, and most of the devastation shown was streets on fire and patients in a hospital, we've all seen tragedy on TV in the not-too-distant past, and we were immediately reminded of what devastation looks like. After the bomb hit, the look of the movie momentarily changed from looking like a slick, Hollywood film to looking like a documentary. It made the events on screen look almost too real. It felt too close to home. As I said earlier, had this movie been released a year ago, people would have been applauding how good it all looked, how the filmmakers made you feel like you were part of the action. But today I think I would have preferred a slick, Hollywood feel to the strike, so at least I would know that it wasn't real, and think that maybe it wasn't all possible. But the way it all went down, with the bomb being shipped by boat is all too possible.
The rest of the movie played out very intense. Since having a nuclear explosion on screen isn't typical in movies (most movies the point is to stop the bomb before it goes off so everyone can breath a sigh of relief), you were actually left wondering if maybe the two countries would go to war. And that made for a lot of tension for the rest of the film. Would Ryan get to the President in time to stop an all-out nuclear war? Would the two sides feel that the only way to show their strength would be to destroy the other side? The second half of the movie certainly was more entertaining than the first, even if it hit too close to home.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The first hour - slow. The second hour - better, but disturbing. If the memories of 9-11-01 still haunt you, this movie may not be something you want to see. Most of the time it plays out like a movie, but at times, it plays out like a real life documentary, which can bring back some terrible memories.
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The Hunt for Red October
Clear and Present Danger
Sum Of All Fears
© 2002 Wolfpack Productions