The Sum of All Fears is the fourth Tom Clancy story to make it to the big screen. This latest Clancy adaptation tells the tale of an Israeli tactical nuke which is lost to the desert sands due to a jet fighter crash. The nuke is later dug up by locals, who, not realizing the dangerous nature of their find, sell it to an agent (played by Colm Feore) of a global Nazi conspiracy who plot to use the nuke as their deadly centerpiece in a terrorist ploy to get the U.S. and Russia to destroy each other.

CIA historian Jack Ryan is the only man who can uncover and stop the Nazi plot and save the two countries from nuclear destruction (the villains are different from those in the novel). Part of his unique position stems from him being the only U.S. advisor to correctly realize that new Russian president Alexander Nemerov (played by Ciarán Hinds) is not the sort of man to commit atrocity. Fueled as much by his own stubborn conviction that he's right about Nemerov as by his fear of nuclear war, Ryan races against the clock to untangle the conspiracy's threads and gather evidence to try to convince the fiery American president (played by James Cromwell) to back down as the two countries move ever closer to war.

Ben Affleck stars as Jack Ryan, thus filling some fairly large shoes left behind by Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin. Affleck does a respectable job as this young, inexperienced version of Ryan, though his performance here isn't as good as the turn he did as a vengeful angel in Dogma.

Director Phil Alden Robinson has stocked the film with some of the best aging character actors Hollywood has to offer: Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Alan Bates, Colm Feore, Ciarán Hinds, and Ron Rifkin all turn in good performances here. Liev Schreiber also does well as a CIA operative who is called back into duty, supposedly just to gather information (though we all know he's going to be deep in the action by the time the movie's over).

The movie is a bit slow at the start and keeping track of all the characters is a bit confusing at first; this is no doubt a function of the complexity of the source material. But once things get going, this is a very suspenseful and entertaining film. It's good to see on the wide screen just to get the full benefit of the very decent special effects, particularly an attack on a U.S. aircraft carrier and a nuclear explosion.

Overall, this is a very well-directed film, and I think scriptwriters Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne did the best that could be expected in adapting Clancy's novel.

Movie Information

Release Year: 2002

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 124 minutes

Director: Phil Alden Robinson

Writers: Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne

Cinematography: John Lindley

Score: Jerry Goldsmith


Ben Affleck: Jack Ryan
Morgan Freeman: DCI William Cabot
James Cromwell: President Robert Fowler
Liev Schreiber: John Clark
Bridget Moynahan: Dr. Cathy Muller
Alan Bates: Dressler
Ciarán Hinds: President Alexander Nemerov
Philip Baker Hall: Defense Secretary Becker
Ron Rifkin: Secretary of State Sidney Owens
Bruce McGill: National Security Advisor Revell
Colm Feore: Olson
Josef Sommer: Senator Jessup
Ian Mongrain: Syrian Radar Operator
Russell Bobbitt: Israeli Pilot
Ken Jenkins: Admiral Pollack

A Habitual Nit-Picking Analyst's Take on the Movie

Guilty admission. I *liked* this movie. It was really nowhere near as bad as I had been expecting. Other than Affleck, of course, but given the depth of Clancy's characterizations (see 'lack thereof') he was arguably even better suited than Baldwin, who really seems to need to believe he's the suavest bastard in creation. Affleck, on the other hand, just comes across like he's about fourteen and can't understand why the bigger kid just kicked him in the nuts for mouthing off.

* * * SPOILERS * * *

Things I think the movie actually did better/more plausibly than the book:

  1. The bomb. The book had some elaborate 'new tech' means of converting a perfectly usable fission weapon into an elaborate fusion device, which seemed a bit pointless given that their target was Denver (in the book). The movie made much, much more sense - given everything that had been in a working bomb, they simply needed to rebuild a working bomb (which simply has to fit into a vending machine rather than a tight streamlined bomb casing). A 1/4 Hiroshima is just fine for what they wanted. I mean, hell, it's Baltimore - you're not going to get DC from there without a honking big airburst, so why bother? It goes bang, it kills the President, it makes a mushroom cloud and fallout, that's all you need.
  2. The delivery. The book had them ship it in to the US and then drive the $)@#)$ thing across the country to deliver it to, again, Denver. Why Denver? Gawd only knows. Maybe Clancy just can't picture a Super Bowl in Baltimore.
  3. The event. No pointless 'last second chases' as someones' hands close futilely on the door of the device; no calm-at-the-end looks of 'well, we screwed it, chaps' as the balloon goes up. Nope, they did know generally where it was and when, but that was all...and they weren't even close to finding it. They didn't try to search for it, either. I love those scenes in movies - "Okay, somewhere in Giants' Stadium is a device the size of a mini beer keg, likely with no external clues as to its purpose. Oh, and the Super Bowl is being held there today. Go fetch."
  4. The provocation. in the book, neo-nazi whackos put on Russian uniforms and (of all things) started a ground action in Berlin vs. NATO. Uh? This spawned a tank-to-tank action, which spiraled, and...none of that crap here; it took *one* venal guy (Russian Maritime Strike Commander) to send his crews off to shoot up a U.S. CVBG, during the 'fog of war' following the initial detonation and during the resultant alert. Much, much more believable. Less likely to be questioned (not a nuclear release), harder to recall, harder to deny/investigate, etc.
  5. The spiraling craziness on NEACP. In the book, Ryan (suddenly the Director of Intel, or some such) actually has to face down the national security advisor who is, conveniently, a jealous, shallow, annoying, bitchy female who loses her head in a crisis. Here, we see the President(s) surrounded by well-meaning assistants and advisors who start out with divided opinions and move into consensus (on the wrong thing) due to lack of information, confusion and stress.
  6. The motorcade escape. They did all that right. Screw the public, get the Man outta there, run run run, and when they did take it on the chin, Marine One came in, grabbed Hizzoner and anyone standing and ran them to Andrews/NEACP and burned turbines getting off the freaking ground. Kudos on showing the air-to-air gassing of NEACP, too.

Problems I had with the movie:

  1. Lack of weapon effects. They dealt with the radiologicals fairly well: "Jack, it's all going north and east..." which not only is the prevailing pattern in Baltimore but puts it all out over the Atlantic. Plus, it's a really small bang. However, I find it hilarious that all the rescue teams are running around in the ruins using - wait for it - cell phones. Christ, if 9/11 taught us one thing it's that even if the systems survive (survive close range EMP? Suuuure) we humans can jam them up trying to call Mama Jo and Little Billy in the Blast Zone quicker'n you can say 'grandkid ashes.' The few visuals of Baltimore were, I thought, really well done - most tallish buildings still up but destroyed/burning, lower down stuff at a distance from the stadium not so bad.
  2. Instant PocketPC email direct from a nuclear blast zone to a secret contact in the Russian government that doesn't seem to need a password that...nevermind, you get the idea.
  3. The clich├ęd 'Oh, we got a young guy with an earring hacking the bad guy's computer, which is serving on a constant Internet connection despite sitting under a desk in Damascus.' Schyeah. And I keep my secret plans to anally rape Karl Rove with a steel spiked dildo on my Mac just in case I forget 'em.
So...5 to 3...I liked it. ;-) Your mileage may vary widely.

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