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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
The Sum of All Fears (2002)
2 Stars

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson
Cast: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates, Bridget Moynahan, Philip Baker Hall, Bruce McGill, Colm Feore, Ciaran Hinds, Michael Byrne, Jamie Harrold, Ron Rifkin, Josef Sommer
2002 – 124 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, disaster images, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 2, 2002.

The fourth cinematic adaptation of the Jack Ryan novels by Tom Clancy, "The Sum of All Fears" follows 1990's "The Hunt for Red October," 1992's "Patriot Games," and 1994's "Clear and Present Danger," but with a key difference. Although set in 2002, analyst Jack Ryan, portrayed in the past by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, is now played by the much-younger Ben Affleck (2002's "Changing Lanes"), whose character is just beginning his career in the CIA. His doctor wife, Cathy, is still only his girlfriend (Bridget Moynahan) here, and daughter Sally hasn't even been conceived of yet.

The timeline of events isn't the only thing that is screwy in "The Sum of All Fears," directed by Phil Alden Robinson (1989's "Field of Dreams"). Replacing the deep human element of "Patriot Games" and the meticulously developed "Clear and Present Danger" is a surprisingly ineffectual cautionary tale about the effects of nuclear warfare. With a premise that is eerily similar to the tragic events of 9/11, one would think the film would pack a veritable wallop, but it does not. Instead, it wavers somewhere on the disappointing line of emotional sterility.

President Fowler (James Cromwell) has reason to believe that a foreign country--possibly Russia--is planning a nuclear attack on the United States. Jack Ryan and his boss, Bill Cabot (Morgan Freeman), are called in to present him with facts about this alleged plan that he otherwise would not know about. Jack Ryan eventually uncovers that Russia is being set up as the fall guy for this possibly catastrophic attack, and it is up to him to convince Fowler and his fellow CIA workers that his beliefs aren't merely wild shots in the dark. Meanwhile, a bomb is secretly planted in Baltimore, where it is targeted to go off at the Superbowl.

Written by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne, "The Sum of All Fears" is a textbook example of how to make a highly charged political thriller about a possibly very real disaster and strip it of all its potency. The film is certainly a timely one, to be sure, and there is an undoubted fear that something of this calamitous proportion could occur right outside our front door, but there is no real payoff. When the bomb goes off, completely wiping out a half-mile radius of Baltimore and destroying much of the city, the results are anticlimactic. In director Phil Alden Robinson's goal of not truly shaking anybody's nerves, he has softened this major plot development to such a degree that you never even see the football stadium explode, and the shots of destruction in its wake last all of ten seconds. While such a serious topic should not be exploited in any way, it is clear this vital section of the movie has been seriously edited down. In other words, Robinson has cheated his viewers of what they came to see in the first place.

As professionally acted as the picture is, the performers generally do not get enough time to develop their roles beyond types. The charismatic Ben Affleck amicably plays Jack Ryan as a wide-eyed man just starting his career, and without the cynicism and rough edges that he is to later develop. Morgan Freeman (2002's "High Crimes") brings a certain amount of class to every role he plays, and the underwritten Bill Cabot is no exception. James Cromwell (1999's "The Green Mile") is serious and remorseful as President Fowler; Liev Schreiber (2001's "Kate and Leopold") is calmly amoral operative John Clark; and Bridget Moynahan (2001's "Serendipity") stands in as a passable younger replacement of the character originated by Anne Archer.

While the first hour is mostly just setup, the second half of "The Sum of All Fears" raises the stakes and picks up its pace enough to be mildly involving. Unfortunately, the longer the film runs, the more implausible its details become. If Ben Affleck continues on as the new Jack Ryan in later installments of the series, he has what it takes. It can only be hoped, however, that more attention is paid not only to the unflinching realism of the situations, but also to the human element of what, exactly, makes Jack Ryan tick.

©2002 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman