Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 29, 2003)
Tom Clancy's work never did a whole lot for me. Whether in his books or in the movie adaptations, I found his work to be rather dry and less than exciting; Clancy's love affair with political and technical details tended to go overboard and bog down the storylines. While his work could be fairly interesting and stimulating, I always felt that with a little more streamlining, his stories might have been much more provocative.
I finally found Clancy I could love with the film adaptation of 1994's Clear and Present Danger. After two entertaining but not exceptional forays into movies with 1990's The Hunt For Red October and 1992's Patriot Games, the Jack Ryan series hit its stride with this terrific picture.
At the start of the film, we see the Coast Guard as they stop a yacht in the south Caribbean. When they board the craft, they discover some slain inhabitants. One of them named Peter Hardin had important friends, including the US President Bennett (Donald Moffat). When he learns of the killings, he demands reprisals against the South American drug cartels that caused these problems.
CIA consultant Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) sits in on a meeting to discuss this issue, and he takes on a more important role when his boss Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) becomes seriously ill. Ryan takes over the position as Acting Deputy Director of Intelligence, which means he’ll need to work with National Security Adviser James Cutter (Harris Yulin) and Deputy Director of Operations Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny), neither of whom welcome the presence of this “boy scout” since they need to get down and dirty to follow the president’s orders.
In the meantime, we meet the other side in Colombia. We encounter drug lord Ernesto Escobedo (Miguel Sandoval) and his counsel Felix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida). Escobedo enacted the slaughter of Hardin and his family, but Cortez objects to that form of business. Ritter heads to Panama City, where he meets with an agent named Clark (Willem Dafoe). Ritter hires Clark to run the unauthorized enterprise against the drug cartels, and we soon see Clark as he recruits soldiers.
Cortez’s plot thickens as he comes to Washington DC and enjoys an ongoing affair with Moira Wolfson (Ann Mangnuson). A distant friend of Jack’s and his wife Cathy (Anne Archer), Moira works as the assistant to FBI director Emile Jacobs (Tom Tammi); we quickly deduce that Cortez – who calls himself Roberto Landa with her – is using Moira for information about the government.
Some think the attack on the yacht occurred solely due to piracy, but Jack suspects something more substantial, and he attempts to establish if Hardin was involved in dirty business. He soon discovers that this was the case, and Hardin left behind $650 million in an offshore account. However, Ryan only theorizes that this money came from drugs, so the president sends him to Colombia to find the connection.
Clark’s endeavor causes damage to Escobedo’s operation, as the soldiers destroy his transport planes and processing plants. Clark and Ryan briefly meet through their connection with Greer, and out of respect for the ill admiral, Clark sends him toward Escobedo. When the Colombian government learns of Hardin’s drug money, they want a big cut, but the president is determined to keep it all for the US. He sends FBI director Jacobs to Colombia to negotiate this.
Escobedo fumes when he sees the president’s determination to keep what the drug lord regards as his money, and this seems to set up a climactic attack. Forces converge on Jacobs’ motorcade in Colombia, and this causes the president to authorize even more force against the drug runners. Eventually Ryan starts to sniff dirty dealings by his own government as well as Escobedo, Cortez and others. The rest of the movie follows his attempt to find the truth and set things right.
Clear and Present Danger manages to have its cake and eat it too by combining the intricate technical world of Clancy with more action and excitement than previously depicted. Make no mistake - this isn't an all-out action-fest, as it still spends a lot of its time in the realm of political intrigue. However, it peppers that standard Clancy fare with some terrific action sequences.
Really, for the first hour or so, Clear and Present Danger follows a fairly standard course for Clancy stories. It seems fairly interesting and maintains your attention, but it largely covers expository material. Since Clancy's works tend to feature complicated plots and lots of characters, it took about an hour for all of the roles and settings to become established.
For my money, Clear and Present Danger really starts to take off as we approach the halfway mark. At that point, the film moves into another gear when we see the assault on the FBI director’s motorcade. Director Phillip Noyce paces the scene beautifully as we slowly see the attackers take their places before all hell breaks loose. The segment possesses a tremendous impact, both viscerally and emotionally, and it sets the tone for the rest of the film. The experience seems to change Ryan, who goes from sideline advisor to more active participant.
All this makes for a very exciting and fairly moving action film. I found the whole experience to be quite a big comeback after the occasionally dull Patriot Games. Director Noyce shows a lot more flair behind the camera this time around, and the film moves along at a pretty good pace, especially for a relatively long picture. He handles the action sequences with substantially more flair, and even though Danger lasts 25 minutes longer than Games, it progresses so nicely that it actually seems shorter.
As usual, Harrison Ford does fine work in the role of Jack Ryan. Okay, I'm clearly in the bag for Ford, but truthfully, does the guy ever do any honestly bad work? He's made far fewer clunkers than pretty much any other actor with as extensive a résumé, and even when the film stinks, he generally manages to come through it without embarrassing himself. Harrison Ford's name on the marquee pretty much guarantees good work, and Clear and Present Danger provides no exception.
The supporting cast also seems top-notch. Henry Czerny probably offers the biggest standout as weaselly bureaucrat Robert Ritter. Czerny plays the role with just the right level of sliminess; he makes sure we see the character for what he is, but he never goes over the top and creates a cartoon villain. I also like Joaquim de Almeida as shady drug advisor Felix Cortez; he seems just slick enough to pull off his plans. Unfortunately, he wasn't exactly the physical type the filmmakers would like us to believe he is; while the script often calls him a "Latin Jack Ryan," he looks a lot more like a Latin Phil Hartman.
All four movies based on Tom Clancy novels work reasonably well, but Clear and Present Danger remains the series’ strongest effort. It meshes Clancy’s intricate plots and complicated intrigue with a positive sense of action and panache largely absent from the others. It seems exciting, moving and neatly paced, and Danger provides a fine piece of work.