Don’t trust your government. Because apparently, they have no clue what the hell’s going on half of the time.
The new Russian President, Nemerov (Ciarán Hinds), seems like he may be giving the good ole’ boys of America a hard time. Actually, probably a lot harder than either the president (James Cromwell) or CIA director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) feel comfortable with! Apparently, a nuclear bomb that was mysteriously lost during a 1972 Israeli-Egyptian conflict, somehow finds its way back into prominence with the Russians who, in their sneaky ways, are making a secret bomb of their own. Some of it makes sense, and some of it doesn’t, but one thing’s for certain: America won’t be taking any chances with this whatsoever. This is when they decide to call in CIA Agent Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck) who, having already written a book on Nemerov, seems like an expert of sorts on this type of stuff, and goes so far as to call him a “good man”. The U.S. government doesn’t agree with this and sets up defense as soon as they can. However, “as soon as they can”, may just be a little too late.
Let’s not forget that this movie was released only nine months after the 9/11 attacks occurred and, in case you were born just yesterday or have been living under a rock for the past 12 years, America still hasn’t quite gotten over it. And nor should we; not only was it one of the worst travesties to happen to our country in the past hundred or so years, but it showed every citizen that yes, our country is vulnerable enough to where a couple of terrorists could actually get into planes, strapped with bombs to their chests, run those said planes into the Twin Towers and during the process, even blowing themselves, as well as everybody within a 10-feet-distance from them, up into smithereens. The images, videos, sound-bites, etc. are still shocking to this day and it has us wonder if anything as tragic like that will ever happen again to our country.
That’s why, when a movie that not just discusses the same ideas of terrorism like nukes, mass-genocide and paranoia, but even goes so far as to give us a shocking sequence in which all of Baltimore is hit by a nuclear bomb, it comes off as a bit “in poor taste”, for lack of a better term. Though some of you out there may get upset with me “spoiling” what happens about half-way through, I think it deserves to be noted because not only is it the turning-point for this movie, but it also still does the trick, even twelve years after it’s initial-release, and a little near-thirteen years after the infamous attacks themselves. It’s still shocking, it’s still brutal and, even despite some choppy-visuals here and there, still feels somewhat realistic.
Strange to think that seeing certain stuff like that in movies still gets us to this day, but so be it. That’s what happened to us on that fateful day, and for most of us, we’ll continue to be scarred till the rest of our days.
But anyway, like I was saying about how it effected this movie, because before this sequence, the movie was rather by-the-numbers. Sure, some of it had energy and intrigue added to the proceedings, but for the most part, I didn’t get what was really happening, nor did I really care. Nobody feels all that fleshed-out, with the exception of Freeman’s Cabot who, as you probably guessed, steals the show every time he shows up. Hell, even when he isn’t around, his presence can still be felt and you’ll wonder just when it is that he’ll show his lovely face again, and give us a character that we both enjoy to watch and be around, but also respect enough to where if he was in the same room as us, we’d automatically shut our traps and let him do whatever it is that he wants. He just has that type of control and prowess over a movie, which is why he was the only real reason to stick with this flick for its first-half, because everything else, is rather boring.
Then, the already-mentioned nuclear attack happens and all of a sudden: Everything in this movie is cranked-up to eleven and everybody is going absolutely ballistic. Though you could argue that this later-half of the film is as conventional and plain as the first, you can’t argue that it wasn’t entertaining to watch a bunch of heavy-hitting, grade-A character actors like Bruce McGill, Ken Jenkins, James Cromwell, and Philip Baker Hall walk around a board-room, just yelling at one another. Even if certain lines like, “It’s the Russians who did it! Nuke ’em!”, are a tad corny, they’re still fun to hear, especially when you have talented dudes like these delivering them. There’s also a stand-off between the Russian and United States government in which both presidents talk to one another through some sort of a computer-messaging system and though it may be a bit silly, it’s still suspenseful to watch and listen to. Yeah, typing on a keyboard has never been the most thrilling, nor exciting thing a movie can do, but here, it worked for me.
However though, whenever we don’t focus on these powerful men screaming, figuring stuff out and yelling demands at one another, we focus on Jack Ryan as he ventures all throughout what rubble is left of Baltimore, which may have been exciting to watch, had Ryan’s story been all that interesting to begin with, but it isn’t. That’s not to discredit Ben Affleck too much here in the lead role, because while the guy definitely does try, the movie isn’t all that focused on him to begin with and only shines a light on him whenever necessary. I’m not saying that if you took him out of this film, it would work better, but you could probably have featured somebody awesome like Liev Schreiber’s very mysterious, yet ruthless spy in the same role, and it would have been a lot more entertaining to watch.
Then again, everybody out there in the world knows exactly who Ben Affleck is, and not Liev Schreiber. Hence why one is in main leading-role, whereas the other is in the strange, rather under-written supporting role. Sucks to say, but it’s true.
As it remains though, this is Jack Ryan’s story so when it does focus on him to really deliver the thrills, chills and elements of suspense, it isn’t that Affleck blows the chance to do so, it’s just that we don’t care that much. We see that he’s clearly a nice guy that has a bright head on his shoulder, but can’t fight worth of dick. Which means, that when he has to drop-down in the mud and get his knuckles dirty, it doesn’t fully work, nor does it make you believe too much in him. So it stands, Ford may have been the best Jack Ryan to-date, with Baldwin running a close-second. Sadly, that leaves poor Ben in last place, which isn’t so much of his fault, as it was more of just a wrong film, and wrong time. If Big Ben had been in either the Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games, something tells me he would have been a nice fit and worked well with Clancy’s exposition-heavy dialogue. That’s not the case though. Poor guy. At least he’s onto portraying bigger and better characters than some chump named “Jack Ryan”.
Consensus: May not quite pick-up its full head of steam until half-way being over, but nonetheless, the Sum of All Fears is a well-acted, tense, exciting and rather visceral thriller that takes on a new life when you think about what our country had been going through at the point in time it was released, but also how the shots of a post-apocalyptic Baltimore still have us cringe a bit.
7 / 10 = Rental!!
Great post Dan! You have just reminded me that I should check this out again, I was actually discussing it with my brother recently!
Well then I’m glad. It’s definitely one to watch again for shits and gigs, but sadly, not much else.
Another well written review Dan. I like that you are taking a focus on Jack Ryan starring movies, before you take a look at the most recent one. Which I have zero hopes for. Plus, it lacks Morgan Freeman so it cannot possibly be as good as this one right? Bold move to tackle the terrorist theme right after 911, but I guess it worked.
It’s one of those ballsy moves that actually worked out. Or, at least worked out “well enough”.
I remember going to the theatre to see this movie back in the day and the explosion in Baltimore was a reminder that no matter what secrets powerful people claim to know, there is always a chance for something horrible to go wrong. I agree that Affleck is a star of the movie yet he’s in and out of the story so much because he’s the smart guy no one wants to listen to… although he does get to marry Bridget Moynahan. Nice Jack Ryan review.
Thanks, man! Good point about the Baltimore bombing. It’s scary still because who knows, something bad like this may just happen? You never do quite know.
This one I have never seen. But I have always imagined it being pretty bad. Seems like you think it a bit better than that, though.
It was starting off pretty bad, but then got a bit better once the tension began to really rack-up.
I’ve only seen this once, and that was on DVD pretty soon after its release. I remember it not being as bad as I expected, though I wasn’t thrilled by Affleck’s performance. He just didn’t seem very comfortable in the part. Still, it’s hardly a train wreck.
I didn’t think so either, but I don’t think he was given the right amount of material to in fact be “comfortable” with it at all. He was just there, showed up when he could and the movie went on without him. Or so it seemed to be to me.
good review. i seem to recall that the film was only so-so, but it’s been ages since I’ve seen it, and I went into it somewhat biased, as I had read a withering review of Affleck’s performance
It’s easy to hate Affleck in anything he does, but I took it quite easy on him here. Still, it’s a shame that the movie doesn’t give him much to do at all.
I like The Sum of All Fears, seem to recall it being quite unfairly slammed. Affleck is ok in it but does suffer from us being used to the powerhouse that is Harrison Ford playing Jack Ryan. I rewatched it last year and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
It was a lot better than what I heard, although Affleck did sort of suck it a bit dry. Not by too much, thankfully.
I remember thinking this was quite ballsy when it came out. But then that was quite a long time ago. Nicely reviewed.
My least favorite of the Jack Ryan films and it’s kind of weird seeing the film in theater only just a few months after 9/11. But it’s not the filmmakers’ fault since they started shooting the movie months before 9/11 and it’s based on a book that came out ten years prior. My main beef with the film was that it’s just wasn’t that interesting or exciting; for a movie being marketed as an action thriller, it hardly have any action in it. That lame ass fight scene between Ryan and the big henchman was one of the worse fight scenes I’ve ever seen on a film. Also, considering it’s based on a very good book, I thought for sure it would be in the same league as The Hunt for Red October or Clear and Present Danger, but I was wrong. I didn’t mind Affleck’s take on Ryan but the script was just lazy and direction was uninspiring. Let’s hope Shadow Recruit deliver so we can see Jack Ryan in more action.
Nice review, I love this movie. That vending machine, man.
Glad your reviewing other films than what is recent. good review, I would probably rate it higher but that is solely based on nostalgia when I thought it was amazing as a 13 year old.
I actually just saw this movie for the first time recently and I am kind of luke warm about it. I didn’t really think about the timing of the movie when I wrote my review. That being said, I think the second act, after the nuclear explosion is one of the best portrayals of such events I’ve ever seen. Just the chaos and confusion going on when Cromwell gets on Airforce one was really good in my book.
That being said the movie does have a pacing problem up to that point and Ben Affleck obviously the worst portrayal of Jack Ryan I’ve seen. Affleck does a really good job in surrounding himself with good actors so his acting is overshadowed by others.
Overall, I didn’t hate the movie but it had its problems. Good review!
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