Clear and Present Danger (1994)

2014 #67
Phillip Noyce | 135 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Clear and Present DangerI don’t know if it says more about me or the two Harrison Ford-starring Jack Ryan movies that I wrote 250 words of this review before I realised I was actually talking about Patriot Games. Weirdly, it’s this sequel that I thought was better.

This time, Ryan finds himself getting a promotion thanks to his boss falling ill, just as a crisis explodes around drugs trafficking from Mexico to the US: a friend of the President is killed by the cartels, then exposed as being in cahoots with them. Uh-oh! Behind closed doors, and unbeknownst to Ryan, elements within the government plot to illegally send a super-secret squad into Mexico and kill those so-and-sos. As Ryan investigates the to-do legally, he begins to suspect something else is going on…

Like its predecessor, the story for Clear and Present Danger winds out across multiple threads that aren’t directly connected for quite some time. However, their interrelation is a bit clearer, making the film feel more focused, in spite of its boosted running time. The plot isn’t exactly inspiring, sadly, but it does allow for a few more memorable sequences: an alleyway ambush on an American convoy, with Ryan in the thick of the action (a scenario which is apparently still used to train real troops); and, in a very modern twist, a sequence where Ryan hacks into a corrupt colleague’s computer, while the colleague tries to delete the files Ryan is looking for. Pretty cutting-edge for 1994.

ConfrontationIt’ll come as no surprise that Ryan ends up exposing the nasty conspiracy — which goes as high as the President! But what does a good American patriot do when he finds out the practically-holy President has committed such a sin?! The novel ends with Ryan confronting him… and then deciding not to expose his secret war. Presumably this is thanks to Clancy’s obviously-Conservative political views. “Liberal” Hollywood, on the other hand, has given us a more just — and more satisfying — conclusion. Thank goodness for that.

Though an improvement on its immediate predecessor, I wouldn’t say Clear and Present Danger was quite a stand-out addition to the espionage genre. Following an aborted attempt to restart the franchise eight years later in The Sum of All Fears, and what looks to be another twelve years after that, in last January’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, perhaps Jack Ryan’s popularity is destined to remain literary.

3 out of 5

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is available on Now TV now and premieres on Sky Movies Premiere this Friday.

Patriot Games (1992)

2014 #53
Phillip Noyce | 112 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Patriot GamesA sequel to The Hunt for Red October in technicalities only (it’s another Jack Ryan adaptation, but he’s been recast; only one actor returns, in fact), Patriot Games is another political/espionage thriller from the pen of Tom Clancy.

On a working holiday in the UK, former CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) coincidentally thwarts an IRA assassination attempt on members of the royal family, killing one of the assailants. Also among the terrorists was the dead one’s brother (Sean Bean), who sets off on some new terrorising plot that ultimately leads him to the US, where he plans revenge…

That’s more or less a summary, anyway, because Patriot Games is a sprawling tale. Although most of the major characters start off connected by that failed assassination, they soon splinter to go about their business in unconnected sequences, which finally come back together towards the end. To describe it as “novelistic” might be obvious, considering it’s based on a novel, but it’s not been streamlined for the big screen. The 112-minute runtime (PAL) looks speedy by today’s standards, when every blockbuster comfortably passes two hours, but it’s a lengthy narrative from a time when big movies were less overblown and got on with things — tell this amount of story today and you’d probably pass the three-hour mark.

Unfortunately, sometimes it feels like Patriot Games has. Progressing multiple separate narratives gives a disjointed feel, leaving the viewer waiting for it to all tie together in some way. The storytelling is fitfully slow and kind of baggy, lacking pace. Oirish, to be sureThere’s a nasty synth score, just to make things drag more. There are some moments of brilliance though, not least the beautifully-shot boat chase climax. There’s also the dubious joy of seeing Sheffield’s most famous son, Sean Bean, doing an Irish accent. Co-terrorist Polly Walker is English though — twist! Not that her subplot really goes anywhere. Possibly she just couldn’t do the accent.

Amusement comes unintentionally, and mainly thanks to its depiction of the Irish characters. One’s called Paddy O’Neill. No, really. Another seems to spend his time just sat around watching Clannad videos.

Given its pedigree you’d expect Patriot Games to be a classic ’90s thriller. I’ve always been a bit surprised that it’s often around, but not more talked about. Now that I’ve seen it, I see why. Disappointing.

3 out of 5

Patriot Games is on More4 tonight at 9pm. The most recent Jack Ryan movie, Shadow Recruit, is available on Now TV now and premieres on Sky Movies Premiere this Friday.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the second Harrison Ford-starring Jack Ryan adaptation, Clear and Present Danger.