THE SUM OF ALL FEARS

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. USA. 2002.


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“I am a bomb technician. If you see me running, try to catch up.”
- on Russian engineer’s T shirt.


We, the movie going public in the land of big snow have come to expect certain things from our summer movie blockbusters. We want big names. We demand our big explosions. Most of all, we want our senseless story lines. We will become very upset if the hero doesn’t save the day or fails to get the girl. We become increasingly incensed if the hero manages to get away. Thinking that with the release of Spider-man and Star Wars Episode II the time of summer movies had been ushered in my expectations for The Sum of All Fears were fairly low. After all, a political thriller sent out to the public in the typical time for fluffy popcorn material didn’t seem like a sure bet. After two hours flew by like ten minutes, I found that I was incredibly impressed by the calibre of the latest Tom Clancy big screen adaptation.

The Sum of All Fears is a story of escalated paranoia, and the importance of communication. (NOTE: I included that bit about communication for any gentleman out there attempting to convince their respective others that they would enjoy this film. You may want to try a comment like “Look Honey! It’s about the importance of communication. We should go immediately!” Don’t thank me, that’s my job.) Jack Ryan is elevated to a level never before experienced in his career, that of advisor to Bill Cabot (a higher up in the US national security community). A new Russian leader has just come into power and as Ryan is the most knowledgeable on the man’s career and profile, he comes to Russia for America’s first official visit, that of a nuclear arms inspection. While taking a tour of a bomb factory Ryan makes a critical discovery; three Russian scientists are missing. The exact three experts you would need if you were to build a nuclear bomb.

Morgan Freeman (High Crimes, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) plays Bill Cabot. Clancy’s novel makes the character abrupt and distant, but Freeman gives him an incredible sense of humour. (There’s a scene where he advises Jack on how to break off a date that is absolutely priceless.) Freeman plays Cabot as insightful, highly analytical, and incredibly intelligent while managing to incorporate Clancy’s touch of being quite charming when it suits his purpose. An incredible actor like Freeman can be put in any role, and he’ll make it come to life. Casting him in such a perfect part only gives this story more force.

I have been saying for quite some time that all Liev Schreiber (Kate and Leopold, Sphere) needs is the right role to make him a household name and I think he’s found it in CIA operative John Clark. Liev plays him as an attractive and daring man with a biting wit. Schreiber’s eyes are his biggest asset, innocent when he wants them to be, smart and calculating when facing an enemy. (To say nothing of the fact that I admire his acting skills greatly. The fact that he appeared to keep calm armed with nothing more than a puny flashlight while staring down snarling hungry dogs makes him braver than I am. You would have seen me careening off set screeching at the top of my lungs.)

Those regular readers of mine may want to take steps to have this review bronzed for I am about to make a statement never before attempted in any of my previous critiques:

drum roll please

The Sum of all Fears. All Rights Reserved.Ben Affleck (Dogma, Chasing Amy) was really.....good. The naïveté and enthusiasm enveloped in Jack Ryan made the character endearing. There was no arrogance here, no smarminess. Only a well portrayed role, done with power and realistic emotion. Affleck does an excellent job at bringing Ryan to life, making him extremely likeable, and funny. Best of all, he has made the character of Ryan his own. It would have been quite simple to copy Harrison Ford or Alec Baldwin’s incarnations of the analyst, but Affleck really does make his version stand out, without straying too far off the path set by the previous veterans.

I thought the cinematography work of John Lindley (Pleasantville, Field of Dreams) was amazing. Gritty when it needed to be, seemingly colourless at times. I didn’t realize just how effective it was until I became aware that I was physically reacting to the different climates being shown on the screen. Russia, I started shivering. Israel, suddenly very warm. Using satelite photos of each location in order to change shots was a stand alone device as well."

The score in this film is so well chosen, and constructed. Jerry Goldsmith (The Mummy, The 13th Warrior) has done a great job fitting in his extraordinary compositions with the action on screen. Not so that it’s noticeable, just enough to heighten tension. I think that the mark of a good film composer is not only knowing how to blend his art with that of the director’s, but also knowing when silence is equally as effective. In the scene immediately
following an explosion, Ryan is attempting to extricate himself from a downed helicopter, and the silence, (save for the wind effect) is genuinely eerie.

I do believe that Clancy fans should be very happy with this film. It’s fraught with political intrigue, the intricate details that weave through his books. The nice thing is that those details never get away from director Phil Alden Robinson. (Field of Dreams) It’s just enough to push the story along, to make it more realistic, and never alienates the audience. The truly scary thing about this movie is just how realistic it seemed, given the current political
environment. Nothing was over the top, no typical summer film enhancements, just straight, disturbing, incredible to watch, story. ( I think that the action sequences were done in short jabs, rather than long drawn out bouts so as to avoid causing cardiac arrests to ripple through the audience.) This movie is made so well that it could serve as a message of how far things can go when prides get wounded. People just need to take it in the right vein.

To, “Sum” up:

Excellent film. An above average adaptation of the book.

All the acting is realistic, and well done. Even Ben Affleck.

I need to lie down.

Jen Johnston
 
 
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