CIA analyst Jack Ryan must thwart the plans of a terrorist faction that threatens to induce a catastrophic conflict between the United States and Russia's newly elected president by detonating a nuclear weapon at a football game in Baltimore.
If Ben Affleck is a disappointment, the same cannot be said of the supporting players. Although criminally underused, Morgan Freeman brings his usual sense of dignity to his role. James Cromwell is suitably presidential as Fowler, and Ciarán Hinds (perhaps best known as the male lead in the most recent adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion) represents the Russian leader as a man of honor.
By the numbers
CIA genius Ben Affleck races to save the world in a glossy, gripping if cold and cardboard terrorist thriller, writes Donald Clarke.
If you managed to dodge the press hubbub surrounding this movie and wish to avoid having a significant plot point revealed, then look away after the second paragraph of this review. A reasonably gripping adaptation of a Tom Clancy doorstep, The Sum of All Fears relates boring Ben Affleck's attempts to stop crazed neo-Nazis from plunging the world into nuclear conflict.
The plot will just do, but the characters have all the vitality of a sock full of sump oil. And like I said: Ben Affleck... Boring, boring, boring! You may now turn to the CD reviews.
The rest of you may be aware that, halfway through, Alan Bate's fascist cabal annihilates a good portion of Baltimore (Maryland, not Cork) with an atomic bomb. In truth, the similarity with events of September 11th are not that marked. Indeed, the film treats the catastrophe with a puzzling matter of factness. (Maybe, thinking about all those arty Baltimore pinkos like John Waters, Barry Levinson and Anne Tyler, rightwing bruiser Clancy was glad to see the back of the city.)
Director Phil Alden Robinson (he of Field of Dreams) might have felt that no piece of popular entertainment could accurately convey such a disaster. Perhaps so, but, in the absence of any attempt to engage with the magnitude of the attack, Sum fast becomes absurd. The plight of the cardboard protagonists is overshadowed by that of the thousands of dead Marylanders everyone seems to have forgotten about.
Up to this point, events have trundled along nicely enough. If you like movies where dates and place names are constantly superimposed at the bottom of the screen, then look no further. If you revel in acronyms and arcane military detail, this is your only man. And the story, which finds the baddies trying to convince the USA that it is under attack from Russia - You Only Live Twice crossed with Yojimbo - has all the cold, soulless efficiency we expect from this author.
You will look in vain for a rounded personality, though Ciarán Hinds's terrific turn as a Putinesque Russian leader almost delivers. President James Cromwell plays the same patrician stock role as CIA chief Morgan Freeman, just a bit taller and a bit whiter. Taking over the part Harrison Ford played in Patriot Games and Clear and President Danger, Affleck brings to bear his considerable vapidity on intelligence operative Jack Ryan. It takes a special kind of hollowness to live down to the lethargy of Clancy's prose, and the cuboid Californian has it by the bushel.
One for the lads.
Character: President Nemerov
Co-stars: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Screenplay: Paul Attanasio
Run-time: 124 mn
Release date: 29 May 2002 (USA)
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