THE SUM OF ALL FEARS
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Its a word, trust me. Fans of Tom Clancy (like me, of course) know exactly what Im talking about. Clancy is a great writer and theres plenty of action but what we really like is that these 1000 page paperbacks should, by strict definition, mostly be in the science fiction section because they are loaded with and heavily based on technology. And, miracle of Hollywood miracles, these very cool books have an unbroken track record of translating into great technoporn movies. Unbroken
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS was directed by Phil Alden Robinson (SNEAKERS) and written by Paul Attanasio (SPHERE) and Daniel Pyne. It stars Ben Affleck (PHANTOMS, DOGMA) as a young Jack Ryan. This is the role previously played by Alec Baldwin (THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER) and then Harrison Ford (PATRIOT GAMES, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER), which doesnt mean a thing before you see the movie. Affleck is a decent actor and its perfectly within reason for the studio to want to reinvigorate the role by showing Jack Ryan early in his career when he was just a CIA analyst / desk jockey. I mean, look at the success of Young Indiana Jones.
The story begins during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, at a time when it looked bad for the Israelis. The Syrians were making serious inroads into Jewish territory and Israel prepared a last ditch defense: nukes. Israel has long denied possessing nuclear weapons just like the mafia has denied knowing where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.
An Israeli jet carrying a single fission bomb is shot down and, apparently amid the chaos of the war, never searched for. The bomb sits buried in the sand for almost thirty years when it is found and salvaged by Arabs. Its not at all unusual in this part of the world for people to make a living digging military scrap out of the desert, and its also not unusual for the explosives from unexploded shells and bombs to eventually end up strapped to Islamic suicide bombers. So when this bomb is discovered no one thinks, Whoa, an A-bomb! Its just another piece of scrap to sell on the gray market.
Olson (Colm Feore: STORM OF THE CENTURY [TV]), the arms dealer who buys this nuke does, however, recognize it for what it is. Its no longer functional, of course, but the precious nuclear material inside can be salvaged to make a new bomb. Faster than you can say eBay, Olson has a buyer.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Young Jack Ryan is analyzing the meaning behind every word of the statements coming out of Moscow. The cold war may be over and Russia may be, for all intents and purposes, a huge 3rd world country, but they do still have several thousand nuclear missiles pointed at us so its reasonable to keep an eye on them. The big worry, both in this movie and here in the real world, is that the Russian government doesnt have full control of their military. This worry is made worse by a deteriorating situation in Chechnya, which Russia regards as a purely internal matter and none of your damn business. Russian military atrocities and Chechnyan demand for recognition as a sovereign state bring the matter to the worlds attention, however.
All of these weighty world matters shouldnt be of much concern to Jack, who at this point in his career is a mere CIA analyst (actually, his job title would be "Intelligence Officer / Physical Scientist." How do I know that? Maybe I read it somewhere). Jack is far more interested in the equally young Dr. Cathy Muller (Bridget Moynahan), his girlfriend and, as all Tom Clancy fans know, his future wife. Her main role in this film is to experience beeperus and telephonus interruptus with Jack again and again, a standard movie formula meant to demonstrate that Jack is dedicated, since his job is a higher priority than getting laid.
Jack takes the first step on the road to his later career when the president of Russia drops dead and his successor, Alexander Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds: MARY REILLY), takes over. Nemerov is perceived by the administration of President Fowler (James Cromwell: STAR TREK: First Contact, SPECIES II, THE GREEN MILE) as a hard liner but Jack has written a report suggesting that may not be the case. This is why his bosss boss, CIA deputy director Bill Cabot (Morgan Freeman: SE7EN), invites Jack to breathe air way above his pay grade and come along on a presidential briefing. Here Jack takes quite a chance given his very junior status and speaks up in defense of Nemerov.
Cabot takes a liking to Jack and brings him along on a START treaty inspection tour of decommissioned Russian nuclear missiles. There's a very cool moment as Cabot enters the Russian missile complex. He tells Jack that several agents under his command were killed trying to get in this place, and here he is being given a tour. How the world has changed.
Subplots A and B finally begin to come together as Jack notices that several Russian nuclear scientists are missing. He's told they are dead and/or on vacation now mind your own business and begins to put two and two together. Several missions performed by another favorite Tom Clancy character, ex-Navy SEAL and current CIA spook John Clark (Liev Schreiber: SCREAM 3, SPHERE, PHANTOMS), reveal the Russian scientists are assembling a nuke in a Ukrainian warehouse. Everyone assumes they're doing it for Russian intelligence rather than freelancing for what turns out to be a neo-Nazi terrorist group.
Yeah, that's right, I said neo-Nazis. I know you thought they were a bunch of red neck hicks who live in the woods and occasionally manage to muster enough organizational skills to print some pamphlets and put together White Power marches, but it turns out them European neo-Nazi's is smart sumbitches. They're also the only politically correct movie Bad Guys available (although if I was German I'd be a little annoyed. Gott in Himmel, it vas 60 years ago! Gif it a rest, vy don't you?) In Clancy's book the bad guys were Arab Muslim extremists, which was perfectly believable then and of course is more believable than ever today.
The bad guys weren't changed because of 9/11. The movie was made before that fateful day, so it's just an example of political reality being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness (more like political ignorance and sheer stupidity - feo). Too bad, because the original storyline in the book would really ring true today, and sadly may yet prove to be prophetic. I know Osama bin Laden didn't have an A-bomb because if he'd had one he'd have used it. He and his deluded followers hate us that much.
Another story point that deserves mention is that in this movie John Clark and Jack go on a mission together. In other words, they meet. In the Clancy Universe these characters didn't meet until Clear and Present Danger (where John Clark was played by the excellent Willem Dafoe: eXistenZ, AMERICAN PSYCHO, SPIDERMAN). So what does this mean? When they meet later they didn't remember meeting before? When C3PO and R2D2 arrive on Tatooine they don't remember having been there before? I hate when directors screw up the universe!
And now it's time for a
From start to nuke this is a good movie. The storyline moves along nicely and is fleshed out and believable. Unfortunately at this point we're only half done. The rest of the story is a mess, with people doing unbelievable things and the subplot of the United States trying to decide if the Russians were behind the nuke, which doesn't involve Jack, being far more interesting than the subplot that does involve Jack. And the final scene of the movie* involves Jack having an ultra-top secret conversation with an ultra-top secret double agent in front of his uncleared civilian girlfriend!
I give THE SUM OF ALL FEARS two shriek girls.
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