There’s good news and bad news regarding “The Sum of All Fears”, the latest movie from the book of the same name by Tom Clancy. This one stars Ben Affleck, recently named ‘The Sexiest Man Alive’ by People magazine in the role of Jack Ryan, a role previously played by Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin. The big question everyone asked when they found out Affleck was taking over the role was, “Can Affleck cut the mustard as Jack Ryan?” The answer is no. That’s the bad news. Affleck still looks as though he belongs in a Kevin Smith movie and it is obvious he is more suited to roles that he had in ‘Pearl Harbor’ and ‘Armageddon’ where he wasn’t required to put the film on his shoulders.
The good news is, Affleck is surrounded by such an amazing cast, including the always good Morgan Freeman as DCI Chief William Cabot, James Cromwell as the President, Ron Rifkin as the Secretary of State, Liev Schreiber as John Clark (played by Willem Dafoe in ‘Clear and Present Danger’) and a host of other character actors that make this a taut and exciting thriller.
Although the character of Jack Ryan is about 25 years younger, the story takes place in the modern day world. Ryan is merely dating his future wife Cathy, and Ryan himself is just a guy who works at the Russia desk in the CIA. When the current Russian President dies suddenly of a heart attack, a new President (played by Irish born Ciaran Hinds) takes over. Ryan just happens to be an expert on President Nemerov, so he is brought in to advise the President on the situation in Russia, which at the time revolves around Chechnya.
The commercials and trailers would have us believe the bomb was the climax of the movie, but it actually goes off in the United States midway through the movie. The special effects detailing the possible effects of such a bomb going off are stunning and quite scary. This was a small bomb, and one shudders to think if a full fledged nuclear missile were to strike the United States. The bomb is detonated for the sole purpose of starting a nuclear war between Russia and The United States. The man behind of all of it is ‘Dressler’(played by Alan Bates) a man whose father was a member of the Nazi Party and seeks a return to that era. He figures if the two largest super powers in the world were to destroy each other, it would leave him an opening. The character of Dressler is not some raving lunatic. He’s a man that dresses in $2000 suits, eats fine food and drinks fine wine. He gives speeches to world dignitaries. This makes his character all the more compelling because the most dangerous criminals are the ones we least suspect.
The film escalates into a confrontation between two world superpowers and the climax is a series of events whereby Ryan is desperately attempting to break through all sorts of bureaucratic red tape to get through to the right people tell them it’s nothing but a setup.
Affleck’s less than impressive showing as Ryan notwithstanding, the movie is still well worth watching. Director Phil Alden Robinson does an excellent job of weaving the suspense and action with several doses of humor (usually at the expense of Ryan). He doesn’t lecture the audience on the evils of nuclear weapons. He just allows it to be part of the story.
The DVD features some of the more basic extras, such as trailers and character bios. But it also has quite a few goodies considering it is a single disc.
There are two full length feature commentaries. One features Director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindlay. I normally do not care for the director commentaries because they spend more time talking about the development of the characters and the script than describing what is happening on screen. The addition of Lindlay keeps the focus on the movie and we learn quite a bit about the set ups, design, lighting and ideas brought forth by the actors.
The second commentary features Robinson and author Tom Clancy. I remember seeing Tom Clancy on celebrity Jeopardy one time and he just beat the hell out of his opponents. It’s obvious listening to this commentary why he did so well. The man has a photographic memory and his attention to detail plus his uncanny knowledge of military tactics and the intelligence community makes for an enjoyable commentary. Clancy from time to time complains how his work was twisted around but Robinson explains how sometimes the transition from paper to screen has to be altered somewhat.
There is a feature called ‘A Cautionary Tale’ which has the cast and crew discussing the making of the movie. It was interesting, even if there were too many ‘Ben Affleck is great’ comments from the rest of the cast, in what appears to be an attempt to justify his taking over the role.
The ‘Visual Effects’ feature explains in detail how three distinct scenes during the bomb sequence were filmed. It’s an amazing education and a testimony to how seriously special effects people take their work.
The movie is fun to watch, despite its dark undertones and the extras presented on the DVD make it worth the purchase.