In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
I am 34 years old. I am unmarried and I have no children. I don’t really have a career to speak of, and I am nowhere near considering buying a house. Basically, I’m doing things right, at least by way of me never wanting to give up my ability to do whatever I want at any given moment without answering to anybody for any reason at all. Yet despite my inclination to shirk any and all adult responsibilities I still feel a little bit like a dad. I tend to reject hip, new things, oftentimes purposefully mispronouncing the cultural item in question just to show how proudly out of touch I am with kids these days. I identify with the guy at the end of every tool commercial who folds his arms while giving a proud “job well done” look into the camera. I like what I like and I have no room for anything else, except shitty puns. I love shitty puns almost as much as love scoffing in general. So yes, I am becoming a total dad. As such, it’s about time I let some Tom Clancy into my life, don’t ya think? Read the whole series here.
I sure do! And having never seen a single Jack Ryan film, I’m going to cross them ALL of of my Shame List!
Oh, and just to be clear: I’m never having kids. They’re way too sticky for me.
Patriot Games (1992)
Director: Phillip Noyce
Writers: Tom Clancy (novel, yes I will continue to credit him), W. Peter Iliff, Donald E. Stewart
Stars: Sean Bean, Anne Archer, Patrick Berlin, Thora Birch, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Richard Harris
Jack Ryan played by: Harrison Ford
Plot: Former CIA analyst Jack Ryan is on vacation in London with his wife and daughter. After delivering a speech at Parliament, Ryan interferes with a terrorist attack, saving the life of the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, and killing one of the terrorists in the process. Unfortunately for Jack, one of the surviving terrorists has taken his meddling very seriously, and is coming to the states to take out the entire Ryan family. Meanwhile, in an attempt to make this pretty straightforward action thriller into something bigger, there’s political shit going on.
Review: I’m only two films deep, so I don’t yet have a notion of what a Jack Ryan movie “formula” looks like, but Patriot Games feels like the template setter. It certainly feels closest to what my assumptions were for this series. That said, I liked the first two acts of it better than I liked the entirety of the previous film. That third act, however, is a textbook instance of a movie falling flat on its face and descending into noise. It’s fun noise, but noise nonetheless. In fact, the ending of this movie was such a mess that Clancy himself disowned it, claiming that the film was too much of a departure from the source material. I haven’t read the novel, mind you, but the Wikipedia plot description doesn’t include the action-packed explosive boat chase that closes out the film, so I don’t blame Clancy for feeling a bit miffed.
Right off the bat this film feels like a completely different series than its predecessor. For one thing, it looks different. Noyce and McTiernan have distinctly different styles, with Noyce favoring a duller palette and less showy camera work (although there is one “hoooooooly shit” moment that features a brilliant, wonderfully gaudy zoom). But more importantly, while The Hunt for Red October told a larger story that happened to have Jack Ryan in it, Patriot Games is immediately the opposite: a Jack Ryan story that happens amidst a larger geopolitical plot. All the junk with the IRA is just plot gravy, however. At its most basic, this is simple action revenge movie. What I can’t figure out is which flavor – political thriller or Jack Ryan adventure – suits my tastes more. Since I’m coming to this series with only a loose set of stereotypes in my noggin, I guess it won’t be until the end of the entire thing that I can decide what works best for me. On the one hand, the simple “you killed my brother, now I want revenge” story works very well. I was completely engaged any time Ryan was working to protect his family, and the movie only seemed to slow down when it dipped into the larger international conflict. On the other hand, when the film truly commits to being a 90’s actioner, complete with an utterly ridiculous boat chase, I found myself wishing for something denser and more intellectually satisfying. Do Jack Ryan movies always try to ride this line? Will any of them find a perfect balance? Am I actually going to have to read one of these books?
Overall, when I think about the action flicks of the ‘90s it’s Harrison Ford’s crooked face my mind conjures. I’m sure his double outing as Jack Ryan had a lot to do with it. Even having never seen them, I do remember the film tie-in novels being on my dad’s bookshelf. I do remember both Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger being frequently broadcast as the afternoon movie on USA or TNT and thinking “Dad probably loves those movies — oh, cool, Spenser: For Hire is on!”
Ford’s take on Jack Ryan is much different than Baldwin’s, but perhaps this is only noticeable because Baldwin wasn’t really given too much to do in comparison. Ford’s appeal as a hero is that he’s always been a bit dopey, but scrappy enough to get the job done. Han Solo and Indiana Jones are both badasses, but they succeed as much due to skill as they do to comical luck. They improvise twice as much as they plan. You get the sense that if they were clinical about their approach to adventure, they wouldn’t be nearly as successful. Ford wears this well. No one throws a punch as goofy-yet-screen-friendly as he does, and if there’s a better purveyor of an unearned swagger out there, I haven’t seen him. But Jack Ryan is not a lucky or dopey character. He’s highly trained and extremely capable. He can improvise if needed, but it’s not his tool of choice. It took a little while for me to buy Ford as this type of guy. In that respect, I prefer Baldwin. Conversely, with Patriot Games being motivated by Ryan’s fatherly duties, Ford is the better choice. He’s a loving father and a tender husband — I don’t see Baldwin accurately portraying either of those things. Then again, when asked why he interfered with the terrorist attack, thus setting off the entire chain of plot events, Ford’s Ryan claims his motivating factor was “Rage. Pure rage.” When he said this, I laughed. It’s a goofy moment that isn’t meant to be goofy. I just don’t buy Harrison Ford’s Ryan to be even minutely familiar with rage. Spite, sure, but not rage.
Then again, his wife Cathy, much more of a character this time around, advises her husband to stop at nothing the get the bad guy. “You get him, Jack. I don’t care what you have to do. Just get him.” A far cry from how she felt at the beginning of the movie, when she wanted Jack as far away from danger as possible. So maybe sudden spats of blind rage that don’t feel earned are just something Ryans do.
- This is one of the last movies before Sam Jackson started becoming a big name. He had done a few roles prior to this, but the character he pays here could have been played by literally anyone. Around the time of Patriot Games, Jackson went from “oh that’s that guy I recognize” to the cinematic icon we now know him to be.
- Harrison Ford really does love shoving his pointer finger into people’s faces. He can do it to evoke both humor and intensity (never rage).
- This could be included in a sub genre of 90s action flicks called “Ted Raimi looks into a monitor with the protagonist” movies.
- You know how in action movies some government worker will demand that a surveillance image be enhanced? It’s one of the biggest cinematic lies this side of handgun silencers, and it never fails to remove me from the film. Here, the “zoom/enhance” trope is employed, but realistically so. No new pixels are created! Still plenty of unrealistic gun silencers though.
- One sequence layers a reading of The Cat in the Hat over a scene of high drama. I don’t know what to say about it beyond that, but it is indeed a thing that happens.
- Sean Bean plays the most inept terrorist I’ve ever seen outside of a comedy. Don’t worry, he dies. He’s Sean Bean. It’s what Sean Beans do.
- During the final fight scene aboard a flaming boat, the anchor which Bean has brandished as a weapon is clearly a rubber prop. As he swings it around, the deadly, pointed spikes wiggle and wobble. It’s both noticeable and hilarious.
- I also noticed a ton of obvious “their mouth isn’t even moving” ADR. I’m sensitive to these things. Dads aren’t.
- One of the evil henchman is blinded by a lightning flash while wearing night vision goggles. This feels very Tom Clancy to me. I bet that was his idea. I bet dads everywhere love this little touch. Dads appreciate accuracy in military things/weaponry. Especially if they’ve never been in the military.
Best line: Twice, Jack is given a response of incredulity to his claims. Both times he shuts down his questioner with a single word.
– (Angry) Jack, do you have ANY idea how big a deal it is to retask those satellites?!?!?
– (Heavy sarcasm) And this is the girl you saw? In the blink of an eye, in a Jeep as it passed you doing forty?!
Worst line: Jack is being advised to avoid potentially biased news sources and the following exchange occurs.
-I appreciate you to refrain from reading the newspapers.
~Not even Doonesbury?
Continuity: The inclusion of James Earl Jones’ character from the previous film confirms this entry to be a sequel, although there isn’t much by way of direct plot connectivity. Will Jones be this franchise’s Alfred Pennyworth? I sure hope so. I also hope that this series doesn’t descend so far as Batman & Robin. Or maybe it should.
Age: Once again, it’s not expressly mentioned, but Harrison Ford was 50 at the time of release. If we assume that this is the present year of 1992, and that Alec Baldwin’s age in The Hunt for Red October is accurate, then Ryan has aged 18 years over the course of 8 years. Good thing he has government benefits.
Job: Teacher. He used to be an analyst, but has since retired. However, he does return to the CIA, much to the pleasure of his colleagues (and eventually his vengeance-seeking spouse). His new position at the CIA is something along the lines of “Being Jack Ryan for us.”
Family: Jack’s wife (Anne Archer) and daughter (Thora Birch) are now main characters as opposed to being just set dressing. We get a better sense of his relationship with them, and it’s pretty congruent to what was displayed at the beginning of The Hunt for Red October. They are a happy, functional family unit, and by the end of the film they are about to grow in number. Cathy Ryan reveals she is pregnant midway through the film, and we end on an adorable gender reveal cliffhanger.
What we know about him: He’s a kind family man whose sense of justice can lead to violent rage outbursts (or so he claims) when challenged. He cares deeply about his wife and daughter and will do anything to protect them. He also has a strong sense of duty toward what I will call “government shit” which is never called into question. He prefers to use his brain over his brawn, but in a pinch, he has no problem killing. This is, once again, how every dad sees themselves.