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Movie Review

The Sum of All Fears

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disaster images and brief strong language

Reviewed by: Douglas Downs

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Action Adventure
2 hr. 4 min.
Year of Release:
poster. Copyrighted. Morgan Freeman and Ben Affleck in “The Sum of All Fears”

Starring: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Bridget Moynahan, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates | Directed by: Phil Alden Robinson | Produced by: Mace Neufeld | Written by: Akiva Goldsman, Paul Attanasio, Daniel Pyne | Distributor: Paramount Pictures

“27,000 nuclear weapons. One is missing.”

“Why, you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together—what do you get? The sum of their fears.
—Winston Churchill

There may be those around who lament the end of the Cold War. The days of white-knuckle struggle between the U.S. and the Soviet Union are mostly behind us. Tom Clancy’s 1983 The Sum of All Fears sold over 28 million copies, but in the final analysis it was a book based more on the Clancy reputation than his mastery as a storyteller. The book, best classified as a “techno-thriller”, features the now familiar hero of “The Hunt for Red October”, “Clear and Present Danger”, and “Patriot Games”. That’s right… none other than Jack Ryan.

Ben Affleck in “The Sum of All Fears”The original story was ironically about the end of the Cold War and how the Gulf war made a Middle East peace settlement possible. A group of Palestinian terrorists, European ultra-radicals and former East German secret police and military scientists get together, obtain a slightly damaged Israeli nuclear weapon and try to turn it into an H-bomb. These terrorists are hoping to interrupt the peace plan by detonating a bomb on American soil. It’s your typical who-is-gonna-save-the-world-from-Armageddon superpower confrontation plot.

Director Phil Alden Robinson has taken this old story Paramount Pictures bought the rights to and dusted it off in hopes of making an edge-of-your-seat thriller (special effects barely included). Screenwriters Paul Attanasio and David Pyne really had their work cut out for them. Perhaps it helps to have Clancy as one of the producers, though. I will say that you are better off not reading the original story. One of the only consistencies between the two versions is that a terrorist bomb is detonated during the Super Bowl, forcing the populace to pose the inevitable question “Could this really happen?” Because of 9/11 there is a greater sense of reality to this premise. We are all left to guess at what our future will look like in the Post-Cold War era.

In the rewrite for the screen, a group of neo-Nazis headed by Richard Dressler (Alan Bates) obtains a nuclear device on the black market. Their plan is simple: they want Russia and the U.S. to annihilate each other so that a new superpower can emerge on the world scene. Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck this time rather than Alec Baldwin or Harrison Ford) is a young CIA analyst. Ben does do a great job of portraying a wet-behind-the-ears government worker, turning in his best performance to date. Bill Cabot (Morgan Freeman) takes on the role of Jack’s mentor. Ryan and Cabot are assigned the job of evaluating Russia’s role in dismantling their nuclear armament. (On screen the two work well together, but then again doesn’t anyone who co-stars with Freeman?)

Along the way Jack discovers some inconsistencies, forcing to him some frightening speculations. The sudden change of Russian leadership only adds to the appearance of instability when a nuclear device is detonated at the Super Bowl. The big question becomes “who and why?.” (Sports fans will be thankful that fictitious teams are used).

James Cromwell in “The Sum of All Fears”The story plays out with the a panicky U.S. Cabinet and President (James Cromwell). This provides the bulk of offensive language, but it is understandable under the circumstances. The question viewers have in mind is whether or not the government will learn the truth of what is going on and react appropriately.

It would be endless to mention all the changes between novel and film, but one detail that remained is that the bomb was hidden in a cigarette vending machine. If you remember, such machines were banned on June 23, 1997 as a part of the National Tobacco Settlement, making such an element seem strangely out of place when such attention to detail is given in the general public’s use of Palm Pilots and Cell Phones. The other glaring fact is that the obvious loss of life is extremely underplayed. Naturally, Jack does find his girlfriend, and isn’t that what really matters in such a story?

“The Sum of All Fears” does contain a brief scene of pre-marital sex and the language is packed into one portion of the drama (as stated above).

While “Sum” is not a bad film, I would recommend you wait until it hits the second run theaters or the DVD version. Bored teens might not do too badly checking it out at a matinee price, but overall it just wasn’t that impressive. But neither was the novel.

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive—Pretty good suspense film. I was hooked in the last third after the terrorist’s set the bomb off. The film had an eerily real quality, exploring just how easily two nations with their finger in the button can play the game of brinksmanship. I recommend it.
My Ratings: [Average / 3½]
—Kevin, age 31
Positive—I overall really liked this movie. The only other Tom Clancy movie I recall having seen is The Hunt for Red October, so I can’t really comment comparatively to other Clancy movies. Language was okay: I counted 4 swear words and I was pretty vigilant. There were 4 dead (murdered) bodies, so that is an issue for children. I remember jumping at one point, but I don’t recall exactly why. Overall, I thought this was a good movie.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Carrot, age 19
Neutral—Not as good as the previous Clancy movies (but then again the Sum of All Fears novel is the worst of the Clancy novels too). It seemed to me the movie’s storyline became a bit disjointed in the 2nd half of the movie. Jack’s fornicating with his girlfriend is in contrast to his good guy family man image in the previous Clancey movies. The film makers also bowed to political correctness by changing the bad guys from Arabs to neo-Nazis. May be worth a matinee or rental, but this movie is not terribly impressive.
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
—Hans Zaepfel, age 43
Neutral—A few suggestive scenes with Jack Ryan and his girlfriend in bed, without nudity. I do not remember being offended with any language, so if it was there, it was sparse.(I am sensitive to this) Very Tense movie, and some intense Violence. Not bloody though. I would not let a non teenager watch, and would discuss it with them afterwards. I enjoyed it.
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Trent derbrand, age 33
Negative—This movie just didn’t have the suspense and edge-of-your-seat action that Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger had. And neither did it have Harrison Ford—he is the definitive Jack Ryan. I was more than a little disturbed to think that the president would attack a foreign country to “show them that we are not weak,” before having all of the facts of a situation. Also, the tragedy of thousands of lives lost by the explosion of the bomb in nearby Baltimore seemed to be totally oblivious to the people in Washington on the green grassy lawns at the end of the movie. This movie was definitely not up to par with the previous Jack Ryan movies.
My Ratings: [Average / 2]
—Roger Howerton, age 38
Negative—This movie had an interesting story line, but the acting was so extremely poor that I couldn’t even enjoy it. The poor acting made us laugh out loud at some points. Don’t waste your time or money.
My Ratings: [Average / 1½]
—Sarah Modisett Lee, age 37
Movie Critics
…A nuclear bomb explodes and the shock wave causes a great deal of damage… DISCUSSION TOPICS—Nuclear war and weaponry, chemical warfare, communism, fascism, capitalism, tactics, strategy, terrorism, Nazis, Hitler, Aryans, the CIA, commitment, plutonium, the START Missile Treaty, stability, betrayal, Hiroshima, Nagasaki…
…at least 1 use of the “f” word, while other expletives and colorful phrases are also uttered… an unmarried couple is briefly seen fooling around…
…graphic violence and obscene dialogue… don’t add up to a positive view…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…offers quality filmmaking and some of the magic from the first Clancy adaptation, “The Hunt for Red October.”…
—Cliff Vaughn,
Comments from young people
Positive—This movie is one of the best I have ever seen! I rate it just a little below The Hunt for Red October. The only objectionable part for me was the fooling around in bed by Jack Ryan and Cathy. I also did not find the language very offensive! Before I get any flak, let me explain. A Nuclear Bomb has just gone off on US soil in the middle of the Super Bowl, and it kills thousands of people. And ya’ll are saying that ANY person, even a Christian, in that situation, would not curse? The cursing was regrettable, yes, but if it was not in the movie, then Sum of All Fears would be very unrealistic.
My Ratings: [Good / 4½]
—Stephen May, age 14
Negative—This movie had effects and more effects but no acting whatsoever. If you’re a Morgan Freeman fan you’ll be disappointed. The language and sexual scenes were so bad I had to close my eyes and cover my ears. In one scene a man is seen sleeping with a woman he has knows for A FEW DAYS. Save your money. Recommended age 15+ IT WAS INAPPROPRIATE FOR ME. I WISH I NEVER SAW IT.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 2]
—Cameron W Gabriel, age 11
Positive—WOW!!! This movie was GREAT! Now, I just said that the movie itself was GREAT, but I didn’t say that the language in it was. The choice of words that the director picked for this film was TERRIBLE! Every swear word that they said, almost, was GOD D—M! I am strongly recommending that parents not take their children to see this new movie, because: they will be on an emotional roller coaster, the language is too strong for them, and the short relationship between Jack Ryan (Affleck) and his girlfriend (Bridget Moynahan) is a little racy for children.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Noah Cowart, age 15
Positive—I thought that this movie was great! There was some language, but it wasn’t too bad. There was one scene where Jack Ryan and his girlfriend Kathy were in bed, but it was mainly just kissing, and there was no nudity or anything. This movie has tons of action! It it very exciting and suspenseful. The acting was great. I would definitely recommend this movie to teens looking for something to do. I loved it, and would definitely see it again!
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Nadia, age 14
Positive—I thought this was a great movie. My friend and I have seen several movies lately and have been disappointed but this movie was great. It was tense but it also made me laugh. The whole nuclear bomb during the Superbowl was creepy. The scenes kept reminding me of September 11. There wasn’t that much swearing except by the President and his officials but then again a non Christian was really in that situation do you really think they would say “Shoot!” or “Darn it”? There is one scene with him and his girlfriend but there wasn’t any skin.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Anna Maria Scott, age 16
Positive—I thought that this was an excellent movie. It wasn’t like some movies where if you fall asleep for an hour you can still pickup where you left off. This movie made you work for your money. You have to follow the story line and listen to what they are saying because it can at times be confusing. There was some language, but nothing that was out of the norm, and they are seen in bed together but not having sex just messing around. They are fully clothed. There was great action along with a great story line. It had everything I like in a movie including Ben Affleck. I think this movie was worth the $5.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Sara, age 16
Neutral—I liked this movie a good deal, but I was really bothered when the president and his cabinet took God’s name in vain more than once. If they could have just removed that part, I would have really enjoyed this film.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Brandon, age 17
Neutral—Overall this movie was pretty good, it had one objectional scene and a few curse words. But I thought it was okay. I would probably go see it again.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Lesley, age 15
Positive—I loved this movie—It had action, romance, comedy, drama and suspense. the ending was hilarious. and the nuclear bomb explosion was extremely realistic. Great acting; especially on the actor who played the President’s part—oh, but wait! the best—the best acted role of all was definitely Ben Affleck. I’ve always been a fan, what can I say? lol… anyways! great movie. (note: there is quite a lot of language—so—watch out!) I loved it, and I reccomend it to any ten (very, very mature) and above.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Anna Arango, age 10