" She came at me in sections. More curves than a scenic railway. "
— Fred Astaire, The Bandwagon

MRQE Top Critic

Almost Famous

Director Cameron Crowe extends his autobiographical homage to 70s rock —Risë Keller (DVD review...)

Patrick Fugit is Almost Famous

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Jack Ryan, looking like Alec Baldwin, made the world safe for Democracy in The Hunt for Red October. He returned looking like Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Ryan has changed once again, and this time he looks like Ben Affleck.

The mere mention of Ben Affleck has been known to generate groans and eyeball-rolls, but he makes a surprisingly good political action hero. The new Jack Ryan’s youth and good looks (a 12 on his girlfriend’s cuteness scale from 1 to 10) mask his keen perception, deep knowledge, and strong intuition. Affleck is no Harrison Ford, but he may get there yet.

The New Ryan

Ben Affleck rises through the ranks of the CIA againRyan is no longer the deputy director of the CIA, he’s now a 28-year old history/poli-sci graduate working as a junior analyst for the agency. Basically, his job is to write about obscure Russian politicians like Alexander Nemerov.

Ryan’s career gets a boost when Nemerov rises to power after the sudden death of the former Russian president. Suddenly, everyone in Washington wants to know what Ryan thinks, including the director of the CIA and the president.

Ryan’s new friends guide him through the Pentagon and up the chain of command. William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) is the CIA director who needs Ryan’s expertise on Nemerov. I imagine George Tenet, the current director of the CIA, is not nearly as witty and sly as Freeman gets to be. And Liev Schriber, looking more buffed up than ever, finally gets to play someone cool. John Clark (Schriber) is a spy in the CIA, a man of many faces and a natural mentor and friend to Jack Ryan. Finally, James Cromwell, old Farmer Hoggett himself, plays a bland and apolitical American President with a short fuse.

These side characters add a nice texture, but this is unquestionably Affleck’s movie. He wanders from scene to scene, chasing information from Russia to Israel to Baltimore.

Crazy and Dastardly

The film’s villain, and by extension its plot, is crazy. When Charles Manson murdered Sharon Tate and her houseguests, he was hoping to start a race riot that would spread through Los Angeles to the whole of the United States. Of course, that didn’t happen; Charles Manson was insane.

Richard Dressler (Alan Bates), the villain in The Sum of All Fears, uses similarly twisted logic to pit Russia and the United States against each other. Granted, Tom Clancy’s villain (or rather, the villain that survived the adaptation of the novel) is a lot smarter than Charles Manson, but he still seems too much a caricature, and his plan seems too farfetched. Dressler is the weakest link in The Sum of All Fears, which means the plot necessarily shares some of that weakness.

The execution of the plot, however is very good. Dressler’s intricate plot lets the film’s pace and structure stay fast and interesting. The audience gets to stay one or two steps ahead of Ryan, but no more. Evidence accumulates as in a murder mystery, slowly building to an unforgettable climax.

Despite the gravity of the story, the movie finds a hopeful ending for the U.S. and Russia. An ironic statement about the cost of peace adds one last jab at the emotions. As for Jack Ryan, his career with the CIA has just begun again — depending on Ben Affleck’s schedule.