The Sum Of All Fears

2002, Movie, PG-13, 124 mins


Based on the 1991 Tom Clancy technothriller, this big-budget spectacle treads an uneasy path between the traditions of globe-trotting espionage movies and nuclear scare pictures like FAIL SAFE (1964). The two don't really go together; one is meant to be fun and the other is meant to induce nightmares. Chronologically, the events in FEARS come after those in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990), PATRIOT GAMES (1992) and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1994), all of which feature Clancy's ongoing protagonist, veteran CIA agent Jack Ryan. But it's actually a kind of prequel — Ryan (Ben Affleck) is starting his career at the Agency — incongruously set in the present. A junior analyst working the Russia beat, Ryan's expertise regarding upstart Russian politician Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds) suddenly makes him a valuable commodity when longtime Russian President Zorkin (Richard Marner) drops dead and Nemerov steps into his shoes. CIA director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) plucks the rumpled Ryan from deskbound obscurity and invites him to the dance — closed-door meetings, high-level briefings and even a tour of a Russian nuclear decommissioning facility. But while all the president's men are obsessing about Nemerov and Russia's vast stockpile of nuclear weapons, a threat is building elsewhere. In the Golan desert, scavengers unearth an unexploded nuclear bomb that went down with an Israeli plane in 1973. It winds up in the hands of billionaire Austrian neo-Nazi Dressler (Alan Bates), who believes Hitler's big mistake was taking on the U.S. and Russia directly; how much cleverer it would be to let them destroy each other and raise the Reich from the radioactive ashes. That Dressler fails to see the trouble with this master plan is, presumably, evidence that he's barking mad. In any event, Ryan's knowledge of Nemerov's habits and character wind up being all that stands between the world and nuclear annihilation, a weighty responsibility for an untried pup. Clancy purists will question the degree to which screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Paul Attanasio tinkered with the novel, even if they're okay with the fact that the man played by a mature Alec Baldwin (RED OCTOBER) and the craggily middle-aged Harrison Ford (GAMES and DANGER) has devolved into boyish Ben Affleck. But film's real sticky wicket is that the bad guys not only threaten to nuke a major American city but do it — a conceit that might have been more amusing before terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center using hijacked commercial jets. Witnesses said the WTC attack looked like a movie; they didn't say it was a movie they wanted to see. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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The Sum Of All Fears
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