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THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (Movie Review)

Danjanou

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Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie‘s plot.

I will admit I went into this one preparing to dislike it. Guess what I wasn‘t disappointed in that. I‘m a lover of Tom Clancy, the Jack Ryan novels and for the most part the movie adaptations too. When I first caught a preview for this several months before it opened in the theatres, I was more than a bit interested. Actually it was more like "great" when does that open.

Mind movie trailers tend to only show what the producers want us to see. It took a couple of thoughtful seconds to get past the cool "things blowed up real good" and realise who it appeared was playing Jack Ryan. Ben Affleck, nah it can‘t be, he‘s way too young.

I must have misunderstood I thought, after all it was only a couple of brief scenes. All will become clear when the movie opens I thought and sat back to enjoy whatever movie it was I‘d gone to see in the first place.

There‘s an old adage that says when a movie is based on a good book it will usually fail to measure up. There are of course exceptions to this rule as there are to every rule. This though ain‘t one of them.

The novel The Sum of All Fears carries on the saga of Jack Ryan, dedicated spy and saviour of the free world against the forces of the evil empire. Don‘t you just know that old Ronnie was a Jack Ryan fan?

The basic plot this time revolves around a terrorist plot to detonate a nuclear weapon in the US and blame it on Russia. Therefore plunging the US and Russia into an all out nuclear war.

Ok spoiler alert for those who haven‘t seen the movie or read the book, go read something else, right now. Honestly most of the people who have or will see this movie are Jack Ryan/Tom Clancy fans and know what‘s going to happen. That incidentally is the problem by the way. So let‘s not pussyfoot around the plot or the surprise ending here ok folks.

In both novel and movie some evil terrorist types get their hands on a slightly used atomic bomb that just happens to be lying around. In the book they are for the most part hard line Islamic terrorists with a couple of die hard Red Army Faction types and a token American Indian extremist dupe thrown in.

In the movie they‘re been redone as slimy Euro trash industrialists and old Nazi‘s. They‘re looking to see the rise of new Europe from the ashes of the conflagration they intend to create. I guess they‘re still ticked about Euro Disney over there.

Considering the events of 9/11 a mere twelve months prior to the premier of this movie, it was probably fortunate that this switch was made. The movie was technically completed prior to the events of September 11th but try telling that to the movie going public.

Had the original bad guys from the novel been left in place, one can just imagine the cries of outrage. Everything from shameless exploitation of such a tragic event by Hollywood to cries of racism.

The nationality, beliefs, or whatever of the bad guys is actually irrelevant in the long run. A movie, or a novel for that matter, like this has to have them that‘s a given. The ones here work as well as any. There‘s also a nice feeling watching some smarmy Euro trash get what‘s coming to them.

The plot device regarding how they manage to acquire the bomb is the same in both book and film. Surprisingly it is not as far fetched as it sounds. During the 1972 Arab-Israeli War the Israeli Defence Forces were caught napping by the Syrian/Egyptian surprise attack.

After a couple of days of severe fighting they were on the verge of giving up ground. Anyone who can look at a map of the Middle East can see that this is not a viable option.

To prevent this they needed a massive airlift of modern American weapons, which for political reasons was not forthcoming. The alternative was to use the nuclear option to stop the invading Arab armies. There is more than one suggestion that Israel threatened the US Government with just that to ensure that the needed weaponry was flown in at the last minute, literally.

It is not too hard to believe that the IDF had planes with small tactical nukes ready to go, and that in the confusion of the time one was launched and then shot down. That it was shot down behind enemy lines and the bomb lost is also plausible.

Naturally the Israeli‘s would not mention this to anyone. They‘ve been rather adamant in denying their nuclear capability for some thirty years. They would have just covered it up and prayed no one found it.

The recovery of said bomb and it‘s conversion into a device that can be smuggled into the US and then detonated is also plausible. I mean if someone can destroy a public building with a truckload of fertiliser, why not a nuke.

Frightening yes, but that‘s the point. The book, as is always the case, goes into much more detail on this as well as how the bomb was lost in the first place. It‘s a lot harder to do than the movie makes it out be.

The premise that this will set the US and the Russians on each other is also plausible. At least in the book it is. Clancy provides a rather convoluted plot where the detonation is just one part of the whole plan.

Other terrorists engineer a tank battle between US and Russian troops in Berlin in the confusion immediately after. Other events around the globe some planned others unfortunate coincidences only serve to increase an already volatile situation. Clancy of course carefully scripts all of this.

In the movie we get nothing to support the attack. There is a rather unexplained raid by Russian Backfire bombers on a US carrier and the retaliation on their base by USAF fighter-bombers. Aside from this there is nothing else to suggest that someone is forcing the US and Russian into believing that each is attacking the other. Also that the leaders of both nations blindly believe that is the situation.

Even the bomber attacker is not fully clear. It appears that some middle level dissatisfied Russian officer has been bribed to send his planes against the Americans. That his pilots obey without question is at the least suspect.

This stretching of credibility is related to the major flaw of the movie. This is of course the much-publicized casting of Ben Affleck in the pivotal role of Jack Ryan. Obviously Affleck cannot portray the same character as in the novel or in the preceding movies.

That Jack Ryan is proven veteran operator, respected by all sides in the recently ended Cold War. He is also at least in the novel someone in a position of power and responsibility, the acting director of the CIA.

When Affleck was chosen for the role, a rewrite was done. Ryan is now a new recruit to the CIA, brilliant but untested. This severs all connections to the previous movies and the novels. This may not seem important but it is.

In the novel Ryan is at odds with the President. His Commander in Chief does not like him, although he unknowingly owes his position of office to Ryan. Readers of the novels will be familiar with the preceding book, A Clear and Present Danger for the details on this. Said President is also rather naive in foreign affairs and worse yet a weak and vacillating man.

Worse yet the National Security Advisor is advising The President. This character is equally naive and weak. She also has an unbelievable hatred for Ryan and launches a bitter attack to discredit him at all levels. This crucial subplot plays out while the terrorists carry out their plans.

All this is made clear in the book, but not in the movie. It makes the President‘s actions regarding almost triggering a nuclear war quite believable. Also the fact that Ryan the only person in authority who discovers the truth is unable to convince the President because his credibility has been systematically destroyed.

This older Jack Ryan though is a certified member of the Cold War old boys club and this is also crucial. It is this that enables him to intervene and stop the nukes from flying at the last minute.

This of course is not available to the younger doppelganger of the movie version. The pathetic deux ex machina that the screenwriters have come up with instead is just that, a poor and unbelievable substitute.

Aside from the major rewrite of the Ryan character there is another switch from the book to movie that also seriously affects the credibility. As noted in the movie the villains hope to see a new and most likely neo fascist Europe arise from the ashes of a devastated world. Are they nuts or just extremely naive?

What‘s going to be left standing after a round or two of hide the ICBM? Not Europe that‘s for sure. It along with Canada will serve as no man‘s land on this little war. You know the place where the off target missiles land.

In the book the main terrorists fully realise what they intend to set in motion. The leader is dying and therefore intends to take the whole world with him if he can. His followers are equally as fatalistic, or misinformed of what they will set in motion. Not as misinformed though as the Euro trash or maybe the screenwriters.

There are other shortcomings not directly related to this but also affecting the credibility of the film as a whole. In one scene we see three F-16‘s sent in on a retaliatory strike to take out the Russian base where the bombers that attacked the US Carrier came from. Only three, well I guess those defence budget cuts have been worse than we thought.

That‘s not too bad, but it‘s never explained where they came from and how they easily penetrated the most heavily guarded airspace in the world. Maybe there were more, like a whole wing of them, and only three made it through. Either that or they came from that top secret US/NATO base that exists inside Russia that Hollywood screenwriters know about.

That point might be nit picking but the second isn‘t. Right after the bomb is detonated Ryan spends a lot of time running around trying to find the real bad guys. He also spends a lot of time driving cars and chatting on his cell phone. At one point he even uses his palm pilot. I guess that rogue A-bomb was one of those special ones that don‘t create EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse).

Here‘s a tip for screen writers, study a little basic physics or at least read the Clancy novel. EMP is a by-product of a nuclear detonation and basically will disrupt telecommunications and other electrical devices in the immediate area of the blast. That‘s right, cell phones won‘t work, nor by the way will electrical ignition devices on most cars.

Aside from this crucial point the movie isn‘t a complete loss. The casting is quite good. Affleck does a fair job with what he‘s given to work with. The problem is that ain‘t much. Liev Schrieber as super agent John Clark turns in a more than credible performance. This portrayal of the veteran cold warrior is easily as good as that as Willem Dafoe‘s in A Clear and Present Danger.

James Cromwell turns in a Stellar Performance as President Fowler, at least as far as he‘s allowed to. The character is not as fleshed out as in the novel, again a shortcoming. Fowler in the book is a weak man in a powerful position and therefore dangerous. Here he is just a frustrated one. Overall though old Stretch Cunningham has come a long way.

You can‘t go wrong with Morgan Freeman in just about anything. Here as CIA Director William Cabot, the President‘s friend and advisor he too makes the most of a bad situation. He has a couple of good lines, usually at Affleck‘s expense, and is perfectly cast as the elder mentor, a role he‘s played often enough in the past.

The rest of the cast is also good. I was pleasantly surprised to see veteran character actor Michael Byrne (Sharpe) cast as the old school ex KGB hard liner who serves as the Russian counterpoint to Freeman‘s character. Colm Feore (Trudeau) plays a small but pivotal role as a shady South African arms dealer who acts as the procurer for the bomb. Also fun to watch is Alan Bates as the chief Euro trash/terrorist/industrial billionaire/neo Nazi, basic bad guy type.

The special effects were acceptable especially the nuclear detonation and the aftermath. These points however cannot overcome the overall shortcomings and at the best raise The Sum of All Fears to the rank of a second rate B movie thriller.

You know the type usually found on the straight to video release shelf at your local video store, only they cost a whole lot less to make and for a reason. That‘s too bad it could have been so much more. At least it wasn‘t a total waste of an evening for me. The trailers were good.
 
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