Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
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.
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.
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).
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.