It’s actually pretty easy to forget that Harrison Ford has played played a returning character other than Indiana Jones, Han Solo and Deckard from Blade Runner, because in 1992 he took the baton marked “Jack Ryan” from Alec Baldwin in The Hunt For Red October and sprinted off to star in Patriot Games, the latest adaption taken from a Thomas Clancy novel.
Maybe it’s because unlike his tenure as Ryan, he hasn’t had to share those other characters with anyone else (with the exception of River Phoenix, Alden Ehrenreich and the numerous Henry Jones Jrs from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, of course); maybe it’s because he wasn’t the first actor to portray the action-prone analyst, or maybe it’s because Patriot Games is a mildly above average action/thriller from the 90’s that scores high with tense setpieces but leaves little room for much else of interest.
Jack Ryan – once a CIA analyst now a history teacher in a Naval Academy – and his picturesque family are enjoying a vacation in London where they soak in the architecture and try to make the stoic, royal guards lose their focus. But unbeknownst to them, a radical splinter cell of the IRS has picked that day to stage a violent kidnapping of Lord Holmes, a member of the Royal family and before you can say “have a go hero”, Ryan finds himself in the middle of it and manages to thwart the kidnapping by killing a couple of the attackers while getting wounded himself.
Arrested in the aftermath is myopic terrorist Sean Miller, who is incensed that Ryan killed his younger brother during the firefight and vows revenge after he’s freed by cell leader Kevin O’Donnell. O’Donnell subsequently gives the very angry Miller one shot at vengence before they attempt to have another crack at capturing the Royal once more and Miller launch a two-pronged attack on both Ryan and his wife and kid separately which Jack survives but lands his daughter in a hospital bed.
In the wake of this, Ryan’s former CIA superior, James Greer, starts needling for Jack to rejoin the CIA in order to track down the terrorists and it’s not long before Ryan’s digging up memories of a mysterious, red-headed woman he caught glimpses of during the previous attacks and pressuring Sinn Fien for information.
However, things take an oddly convenient turn when Lord Holmes decides to visit the Ryan residence in secret in order to bestow thanks in the form of a KCVO medal. Thanks to a man O’Donnell has on the inside, it proves to be too much of an opportunity to let slip by so he, a maniacal Miller and the rest of his cell descend on the remote residence during a violent storm. Can Ryan finally put an end to this vendetta and protect his family once and for all?
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit at the time of writing this review, I have yet to read a single Tom Clancy novel or even watched a single Jack Ryan movie (or show) beyond Chris Pine’s turn in 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recuit. I only bring this up because while watching Patriot Games I was convinced that I was missing some nugget of information that was tantalisingly out of reach that would have stopped the feeling that I was watching just another 90’s political thriller. It’s not that I thought this second Jack Ryan movie, based on the second Jack Ryan book, was particularly poorly made or boring, it’s just that compared to the raves I’ve heard for John Mctirenen’s previous film, or even to thrillers released around the same time (1993’s In The Line Of Fire is vastly superior), it just comes across as a little vanilla.
Putting to one side the rather awkward subject of releasing an American action movie involving the IRA in 1992 when actual bombings were still occuring, there’s really nothing about Patriot Games that makes it particularly unique or that makes it stand out from the crowd. Harrison Ford naturally brings his every-man charm to Ryan along with his trademark angry pointing and cinematic right-cross and villians Patrick Bergin and Sean Bean attack both the good guys and their respective accents with a typical amount of sinister malice. James Earl Jones turns up to rumble words of encouragement while a pre-Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson rolls his sleeves up and gets stuck in to the climatic firefight, but none of it particularly sticks in the memory at all despite the efforts of director Phillip Noyce.
Maybe it’s because Ford’s Ryan is such a straight edge, he comes across more bland than bold as his idyllic family life – with a perpetually proud looking Anne Archer looking on – is threatened by Sean Bean’s truly terrifying mullet he’s saddled with during the opening if the film. However, Noyce, who also helmed insanely tense, Aussie psycho-thriller Dead Calm, manages to raise the pulse of the audience somewhat with some decent set pieces like the opening kidnapping attempt and a storm-set final chase in a flaming speedboat that actually looks so hazardous it looks like it would be a danger to the audience, let alone the actors, but they end up as mere blips when stacked up against endless scenes of Eyan fawning over his family or glaring at grainy satellite footage of terrorist training camps – even the immensely dependable work of composter James Horner seems oddly distracted, with his score feeling way too reminiscent of his work on Aliens for comfort.
Tellingly, Tom Clancy himself wasn’t particularly happy with the movie himself, vocally being particularly unhappy with changes made to the ending and demanded his name taken off the movie until he changed his mind before release.
Both his decision and his decision to reverse his decision are both understandable as Patriot Games, for all of its forgettability is still a reasonably successful thriller, but despite its slick production values, recognisable faces and decent action, everyone involved has made better – even Noyce himself turned in the cracking Angelina Jolie spy thriller Salt in 2010.
The second adventure for Tom Clancy’s much loved character may not be as good as his first, but it contains just enough Ryan-flair to get it off the ground.