Clear And Present Danger

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Having not been all that familiar with Tom Clancy creation and all round CIA boy-scout, Jack Ryan, I have to admit that Patriot Games had me wondering what all the fuss is about. Ryan’s second cinematic adventure (after The Hunt For Red October) saw Harrison Ford step into the role after Alec Baldwin for a surprisingly drab thriller involving Clancy’s hero pissing off a splinter cell of the IRA and despite the starry cast it didn’t feel that different from your average, everyday thriller that started cluttering up the direct to DVD shelves in the 00’s and it oddly seemed to neglect the political from a political thriller.
However, due to some healthy box office, returning director Phillip Noyce and Ford managed to get another crack at the analyst/reluctant action hero a couple of years later with Clear And Present Danger and I have to say: this is more like it.

A couple of years after the events of Patriot Games (Jack and his wife Cathy had a boy, in case you we wondering), Ryan has returned to the CIA and is working under his mentor Admiral James Greer when shit goes sour in the Caribbean Sea. A deserted boat registered to the U.S. is found simply floating around and evidence suggestd that the owners were murdered by the Colombian crew on orders from the Cali Drug Cartel. Nothing particularly new there, but when it’s discovered that the victims where not only an American businessman and his family who was laundering money for the drug lord Ernesto Escobedo (although they might have well just called him Pablo Escobar and be done with it), but that the murdered man was a close friend of U.S. President Bennett, the shit is about to hit the fan. Hinting to National Security Advisor James Cutter that the war on drugs might need to be taken up a notch, covert operations are arranged to let toothy CIA operative John Clark set up shifty missions to take the drug barons off at the knees.
Into these very deep, very murky political waters wades Ryan, bumped up to Deputy Director of Intelligence, due to Greer’s serious bout with cancer and unaware that the extra funding he’s asked for is being used to drop bombs on the families of drug lords, this very moral man finds himself up to his eyeballs with dirty deeds perpetrated by his own government. On top of this, he also has to contend with Escobedo’s intelligence officer, Colonel Félix Cortez, a man who is also figuring out that the US government can play just as dirty as the cartels when pushed hard enough.
As both men scrabble to obtain proof of this shifty crap that’s being done on presidential orders that are loaded with plausible deniability, Ryan has to find a way to uphold his morals in the face of such wanton corruption.

Loaded with political intrigue, secret missions, gruff stare downs with a reckless president and tense action sequences that don’t feel tacked on, Clear And Present Danger is far superior to Patriot Games in virtually every way with director Noyce given a lot more room to get stuck into douchebag politicians, sweaty soldiers operating behind enemy lines and plenty of murky goings on to test that sense of moral decency that Jack Ryan is famous for that makes Captain America look like a back alley hustler. This is what I’ve been expecting of the character all along (as of writing I still haven’t seen Red October, yet), a man desperately trying to right the wrongs more powerful men have inflicted on the world even if it means putting his very career – or even his life – on the line. Sure, it may not be All The President’s Men, but what Clear And Present Danger lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in Ford’s determination and a butt load of rocket launchers to keep things moving swiftly through its two and a half hour running time.
Part of Patriot Games’ problem is that all Ryan had to worry about was a vengeful Sean Bean with an Irish accent, here Ford not only has to pit his decency against the iron clad smarm of Henry Czerny’s pencil pusher, but he has to lock horns with Joaquim de Almeida’s scheming, intelligence agent for the drug lords who is styled out as some kind of anti-Ryan. Having villains on both sides means the movie has twice the crap that Ryan has to manuever in order to do what is right and a moment where he and Cortez both work out exactly how ruthless the war on drugs has gotten at the exact same time is a highlight.
Speaking of highlights, Phillip Noyce takes the expanded cast, bigger stakes and longer run time to try and make as many scenes as he can make you inadvertently file your fingernails down with your teeth due to the tension he employs. A central set piece has Ryan and co. stuck in a rocket launcher led ambush is truly awesome as is a mad, climactic dash through machine gun fire, but not many thrillers would have the balls to attempt to have you on the edge of your seat simply because Jack Ryan’s printer has run out of paper at the worst possible moment (something we’ve all experienced, but not usually when the conscience of America is at stake).
Ford seems oddly far more comfortable as the government’s very own Jimminy Cricket in this movie than he was as a fearful family man in Patriot Games and he settles nicely into Ryan’s rhythms this time around while the varied wrong doers also get stuck in nicely. However, it’s Willem Dafoe’s vengeful CIA operative, who only really joins the main plot properly in the last third, who typically steals the scenes he’s in with a determined no-bullshit attitude that runs parallel to Ryan’s.
However, due to the muscular running time, any actor who isn’t Ford is prone to disappearing from the film for lengthy periods of time, no matter how important they are to the plot and his beloved family and revered mentor end up as mere footnotes in a larger story.

A big step up from the previous movie, it’s actually a shame it was all change for the next film which massively ret-conned Clancy’s The Sum Of All Fears into an origin story (Clancy must have been happy…) featuring Ben Affleck in the lead. Still, at this point in time there’s nearly been as many Jack Ryans as there have been Bonds or Batmen, so I guess it’s only natural has his face changes as much as the face of global politics. But in this movie, Ryan’s flyin’.

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