The Sum of All Fears

The bottom line: if you go in expecting a “Jack Ryan movie” in the vein of the Harrison Ford films, you may come out disappointed. However, on its own terms, it’s an enjoyable and well-made thriller.

The biggest complaint about this film has been, from day one, the casting of Ben Affleck as Ryan. Now, this isn’t the same Ryan that Harrison Ford portrayed. Instead, Affleck’s Ryan is still trying to find his feet in the chaotic world of intelligence. Our first encounter with him in the office is watching a video and debating whether or not the Russian President has gained or lost weight. When this Russian President dies and is replaced by a person Ryan has done research on, he is rapidly elevated into the halls of power, and doesn’t know how to respond. Affleck may not be a great actor, but he does nicely here. He doesn’t try to fill Ford’s shoes, but instead makes the character his own.

Affleck is helped by two things. First is a script that neither looks down on the audience or looks away from the hard moments. Fortunately, there are no bad one-liners in the film, even though there could have been. The script doesn’t hesitate to be funny, but also doesn’t force humor out of inappropriate situations. The film isn’t riddled with sparkling dialogue (although, be honest, did you expect it to ber), but the characters seem realistic and intelligent. Second, the script doesn’t cut away. There’s a major terrorist attack during the course of the film, and we see it and its aftermath pretty explicitly. People die (including important characters), and people are killed. The script is probably the most faithful adaptation of Clancy’s text of the films, skipping from location to location and dropping us into situations we know little or nothing about and forcing us to find our way around. It’s intelligent enough that it doesn’t feel like a “dumbed down” version of a film, which was a big worry of mine.

The second major help for Affleck is a dynamite supporting cast. Morgan Freeman is, as always, solid as the Director of the CIA who “discovers” Ryan. James Cromwell puts in solid work as the President, and he manages to have enough charisma to make you believe he IS the President rather than an actor playing the President. The President’s advisors are given character by Alan Bates, best known as a stage actor, and Ron Rifkin, putting in a VERY different turn from his current work on Alias as the resident peacenik. Finally, Liev Schrieber manages to endow John Clark, perhaps Clancy’s only truly interesting character, with both the ability to kill and the knowledge that killing is bad.

Does the film fail at timesr Yes. Sometimes, it globe trots a little much, and the final 30 minutes are too hectic for their own good, with lots of yelling about “order the strike!” Finally, Bridget Moynahan feels tacked on in her part as Ryan’s girlfriend, especially in a couple of scenes in the middle of the third act, where she serves as a distraction from the tension in the main plot.

Despite the occasional failings, the film is a hell of a lot better than last year’s Memorial Day offering with Affleck, and actually manages to work, at least for much of its length. It’s mainstream and a bit cookie-cutter, but that’s not always a bad thing. Pick up some popcorn and a Coke, and enjoy the ride.

Rating: B-