January 1, 2002 -- "The Sum of All Fears" is not just another Tom Clancy novel brought to the screen. Filled with action, intrigue and tension, it is the best of all Clancy adaptations, thanks to some terrific acting and direction. Previous adaptions of the popular Clancy books featuring spy hero Jack Ryan include "The Hunt for Red October," "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger." Clancy is also an executive producer of "The Sum of All Fears."
This particular story takes place when Ryan was younger, before he married (Harrison Ford portrayed an older Ryan in "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger"). Ryan is played by Ben Affleck of "Changing Lanes." His mentor in the story is CIA Director William Cabot, played perfectly by Morgan Freeman of "High Crimes." Freeman inhabits this role with such aplomb he is a pleasure to watch. Ryan is thrust into the limelight when Alexander Nemerov (played by (Ciarán Hinds of "Mary Reilly") unexpectedly becomes the new Russian president. Ryan had written a paper on Nemerov, predicting he could become president. Events conspire to make Ryan look bad during a high-level briefing, when one of his predictions turns sour and he loses stature in the eyes of White House staffers through no fault of his own. One of the high-level briefings in the film is held in a secure room similar to the one being used during hearings into the intelligence fiasco prior to the September 11 attacks.
A crisis soon erupts between Russia and the U.S. which threatens to become a full-scale nuclear war. Only Ryan knows the truth of who is really behind the crisis and he is the only man who can stop the missiles from launching. The tension mounts steadily during the crisis. Earlier in the film, there are some surprisingly effective moments of comedy, however. Affleck's performance is very strong, supplying a good foundation for the film. It seemed the U.S. President, played by James Cromwell of "Space Cowboys" and his some of his cabinet members, with the exception of Secretary of State Owens (well played by Ron Rifkin of "The Majestic"), overreacted too much during the crisis. Their warmongering was not past the point of believability, however, given the circumstances. There is an enjoyable scene near the end of the film which is not quite believable when a couple of spies talk a little too freely in front of a civilian. Liev Schreiber of "Kate and Leopold") turns his usual solid performance as John Clark, a master spy. Bridget Moynahan of "Serendipity") turns in a good performance as Cathy Muller, Ryan's girlfriend. Michael Byrne ("Proof of Life") is effective as the wily Russian intelligence officer Anatoli Grushkov.
Director Phil Alden Robinson ("Sneakers") does a good job with both the humor and the drama of the story and knows just how to crank up the tension. The screenplay by Paul Attanasio ("Donnie Brasco") and Daniel Pyne ("Any Given Sunday") is exceptional. Adequate attention is given to Clancy's pet war toys and scientific information gathering techniques, but the narrative comes first. There is also an emphasis on traditional spying techniques. This is first and foremost a story about people, how they make decisions, how they handle a crisis and how assumptions sometimes almost bury the truth. It is a sobering, but entertaining film. This movie rates a B+.
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