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SUM OF ALL FEARS, THE (director: Phil Alden Robinson; screenwriters: based on a Tom Clancy novel/Paul Attanasio/Daniel Pyne; cinematographer: John Lindley; editor: Neil Travis; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Ben Affleck (Jack Ryan), Morgan Freeman (Bill Cabot), James Cromwell (President Fowler), Liev Schreiber (John Clark), Philip Baker Hall (Defense Secretary Becker), Alan Bates (Richard Dressler), Bridget Moynahan (Cathy Muller), Ron Rifkin (Secretary of State Owens), Bruce McGill (National Security Advisor Revel), Ciarán Hinds (Alexander Nemerov), Colm Feore (Olson); Runtime: 124; Paramount Pictures; 2002)
It’s the kind of empty Hollywood film that has been made since the onset of films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoilers throughout.

A topical thriller that exploits the anxieties over terrorism plaguing society. The filmmakers who shot this film before 9/11 have weakened their story considerably by making the terrorists neo-Nazis instead of Arab fundamentalists, thereby giving the film an unsatisfying PC look. It is based on Tom Clancy’s 1991 thrilling novel on the adventures of Jack Ryan (Affleck). In the novel, the Arabs were indeed the terrorists. Clancy’s charming adventurer Jack Ryan was also featured in — The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger. Either Alec Baldwin or Harrison Ford starred.

It’s the kind of empty Hollywood film that has been made since the onset of films. It takes an anti-art stance in its attempt to come up with a blockbuster and it also goes out of its way not to offend our current enemies (Arab countries can show this pic).

It was ludicrous to have Ben Affleck single-handedly avert a nuclear war. He wanders through the nuked Baltimore oblivious to radiation and gets on the hotline phone to chat with the Russian President Nemerov (Hinds) seconds before a possible nuke war and gives a corny speech that saves the world. He also tracks down the fascist agents who conveniently remain behind in Baltimore.

Clancy fans should be more pleased than others with the film (though Clancy as well as his readers have complained his 1,000 page book was radically changed). Others might find it listless. It trivializes the deadly possibilities of a real nuclear attack and therefore gives the public a false sense of security. In the second half, the film falls apart by nuking itself.

It is limply directed by Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams/Sneakers), and is written by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne. It is most appealing as an entertaining commercial film without a message.

In 1973 during the Yom Kippur War, an Israeli airplane carrying a nuclear bomb crashes in the Golan Heights, Syria. The film flashes forward to 29 years later and some Arabs find the unexploded bomb and think it is worthless. They sell it on the black market for only $400. It soon gets in the hands of billionaire neo-Nazi fanatic Austrian businessman, Richard Dressler (Bates), who purchases it for $50 million and plans to use it to start a nuclear war between Russia and the USA. The opera loving Nazi fanatic states: “Hitler was stupid. He fought America and Russia, instead of letting them fight one another.” His plan is to have his global Aryan party rule the world after these two superpowers destroy each other.

Jack Ryan is a lowly desk-job history analyst in a government sponsored think-tank in Virginia. He’s a twentysomething bachelor who just started dating his surgeon girlfriend, Cathy (Bridget Moynahan). She’s attractive and her occupation comes in handy when the film needs an excuse to show the burn victims in her Baltimore hospital after the nuke attack.

After the Russian President suddenly dies, the new President Nemerov is someone Jack wrote a report on and is therefore considered an expert on him. This brings Jack to the attention of CIA honcho Bill Cabot (Freeman), who brings him along to a national security briefing attended by the Bush-like President Fowler (Cromwell). Cabot is an even-tempered regular guy, who keeps a “back channel” into the Kremlin to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.

Cabot takes young Jack under his wings and brings him to Moscow for a disarmament inspection meeting and to meet the new president, who is faced with extremists in his military. The Russians initiated an unauthorized chemical attack on Chechnya. That is something Nemerov is not prepared to admit he had no knowledge of, since he would rather appear guilty than weak and not in control.

Upon his return to Washington Jack is sent by Cabot to the Ukraine to locate the three missing Russian nuclear scientists who are working on delivering the bomb as functional. Jack is assigned to help CIA field operative John Clark (Schreiber), who is ruthless but effective. The team discovers that a bomb was sent to Russia from Haifa by a South African neo-Nazi operative (Colm Feore) and soon Jack is on the plane home warning Cabot to get the prez out of the Super Bowl game in the Baltimore Forum because the bomb is in play. No one seems to believe him that Russia is not responsible for the nuke attack. Young Jack tries to convince someone in power that he knows what he’s talking about (Yep. It sounds like a Bush administration).

The neo-fascist agents detonate in Baltimore the small nuclear bomb built in 1968 in America. During the attack the President is hustled aboard Air Force One and the harried cabinet officials argue loudly in a secret bunker how to respond. The hawkish Defense Secretary Becker (Hall) and the restrained Secretary of State Owens (Rifkin) vie to get their point across to the befuddled prez (Yep. It sounds like Bush), and there’s also White House insider National Security Advisor Revel (McGill) adding his sense of sobriety to the conflict. The film aims to show how easy it is for powerful countries through a misunderstanding to get into a catastrophic war, as we get to watch the Russians go through the same ‘Hawk and Dove’ scenario as in Washington. The film winds down in a cliché race-against-the-clock scenario.

It all boils down to Ben Affleck saving the world. Unfortunately Affleck is the wrong one for this part. He lacks credibility as a superhero. The film ends on an insensitive and banal note, as Affleck and his honey are having a blissful picnic on the White House lawn obviously forgetting that nearby Baltimore was just tragically destroyed by a nuclear bomb.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”