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The Sum Of All Fears (PG-13)
Paramount Pictures
Official Site
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Producers: Tom Clancy, Stratton Leopold, Mace Neufeld
Written by: Paul Attanasio & Daniel Pyne
Cast: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates, CiarŠn Hinds, Bridget Moynahan, Philip Baker Hall

Rating: out of 5


About two-thirds of the way through The Sum Of All Fears, I realized I was seeing something I hadnít seen in years: an action movie that respects action, that appreciates the undeniable impact of pyrotechnics without wallowing in its own look-at-me, CGI-enhanced glory. The nuclear bomb that rips through a Baltimore football stadium (donít get mad, itís in the previews) is the culmination of a carefully constructed series of events. These events inevitably lead to that moment when time stops, and the only question left isnít, ďWhatís next?Ē but ďCan there be a next?Ē Action becomes more than a special effect. It becomes the mean to an end.

Based on the fifth novel in Tom Clancyís Jack Ryan series, The Sum Of All Fears introduces Ben Affleck as the third actor to portray Ryan (after Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford). While the story has been rewritten to accommodate the younger Affleck and to change up the villains (Arab terrorists, in a wonderfully PC move, have been replaced with last centuryís villain of choice, the stock neo-Nazi), the basic premise remains intact. A nuclear warhead, missing for years after being lost in the Arab-Israeli war of the 1970s, is suddenly found and becomes a pawn in the engineering of war between the U.S. and Russia by a smaller entity (an Austrian politico played by Alan Bates) for the benefit of his fascism-driven vision. Itís playground diplomacy on an epic scale, complete with the cunning little shrimp and the bullies on either side holding him to the ground.

Led by CIA Director William Cabot (Freeman, once again bringing with him that unique ability to communicate at once an air of sophistication and his trademark deadpan smugness), Ryan travels to Russia to meet the new Russian President (Hinds), and subsequently becomes embroiled in Richard Dresslerís (Bates) plan to forward his anarchic views through nuclear war between the world powers.

As the strongest factor in The Sum Of All Fears, director Phil Alden Robinson shows a real flair for staging chaos both organized and frenzied. In one particular scene, during a dinner party at the White House, a crisis emerges and cell phones begin ringing all through the room as if sounding in the apocalypse itself. The Super Bowl portrayed in the film has the electricity and dynamism of a rock concert about to split at the seams. Robinson presents disorder as a symptom of the clash between power and the mob, that unholy business of a country losing itself en masse. It shows in his direction, in the way he reconciles the swarm of commotion with the devastating impact of powerful men sitting around tables and quietly losing control.

But the filmís politics are, ultimately, its vice. In an transparent bid to not completely stereotype a nation as power-hungry revolutionaries, Dressler the Man, and not Dressler the Austrian, sits high as the sole figurehead of the fascist movement. And yet, one still has to wonder about the possibly damaging portrait this paints of Western European politics. Yes, in the end, The Sum Of All Fears is still a popcorn picture, but itís fluff with an agenda. Thereís purpose behind that big budget, and responsibility comes with that. Few films have gone as far as this one does to make its point. A nuclear warhead is not prevented from destroying a major metropolitan area. Russia and the U.S. do find themselves at de facto war. Itís a very surprising development in a film at this point in time (not even considering 9/11). The Sum Of All Fears stands quite often on the knife edge between being a penetrating political commentary and going lavishly out of control with its message. Thereís this strange pipe dream below its surface of a kind of patriotic nihilism that threatens to swallow its good intentions. This contradiction lies at the filmís core, and it finally serves to cloud its vision.

Cole Sowell

 

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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