Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 21, 2014)
While many film series change lead actors after a while, I can’t think of many that did so as quickly as the Jack Ryan flicks. Sean Connery stuck around as Bond for five flicks before he jumped ship, and at least Michael Keaton made it through two Batman movies before someone else took on the role.
The only modern and high profile competition for the Ryan series comes from the Clarice Starling character. Jodie Foster played the role in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs but bailed by the time they made its sequel, 2001’s Hannibal. Julianne Moore took on the part in the second film.
While that recasting probably created more of a ruckus, I still think the change from Alec Baldwin in 1990’s The Hunt For Red October to Harrison Ford in 1992’s Patriot Games remains a startling alteration. (As we hear elsewhere on this disc, it apparently occurred because Baldwin decided to work in a play instead of the film.)
The lead actor didn’t offer the sole change between October and Patriot. Not only did Jack suddenly get about 16 years older, but also his wife changed names from “Caroline” to “Cathy” and she went from being British to becoming an American! Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Gates McFadden played “Caroline” during a “blink and you’ll miss her” spot in October; the character literally appeared onscreen for no more than five seconds. Anne Archer took over as “Cathy” in Patriot and played a much more substantial role. (Unfortunately, the disc’s extras never relate why the filmmakers changed this part and performers.)
One other interesting difference exists between Patriot and the other Ryan flicks. Whereas October earned a tame “PG” and both Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears nabbed “PG-13”, Patriot stands alone as the only “R”-rated Ryan piece.
I wish I could say that the movie merits an “R” for hard-bitten action and a rougher tone than the others, but that’s not really true. Frankly, I think it got the “R” just because it tosses around the “F”-word three or four times; the violence in Patriot Games doesn’t seem particularly bloody or nasty. It aspires to becoming brutal and direct, but while it offers a generally solid tale, it doesn’t quite achieve its goals.
At the start of the film, Ryan is in London with wife Cathy and daughter Sally (Thora Birch, another actor change from October). While Jack delivers an address, the females tour the city. As he goes to meet them, terrorists attack the car that contains Lord William Holmes (James Fox), the Queen Mother’s cousin and the Minister of State for Northern Ireland.
The heroic Ryan intercedes and foils the apparent assassination attempt, and he kills Paddy Miller (Karl Hayden) along the way. Paddy’s protective older brother Sean (Sean Bean) gets arrested but not before he takes a long look at Ryan and clearly begins to internally plot his revenge on the man who snuffed his brother.
While Ryan recuperates and the police interrogate Miller, we see additional actions of Sean’s cohorts. Sexy Brit Annette (Polly Walker) seduces and then murders IRA Brigade Commander Jimmy O’Reardon (Jonathan Ryan) and she then accompanies the gang’s leader Kevin O’Donnell (Patrick Bergin) out of the area.
After Ryan testifies at Miller’s trial, the family returns to Annapolis Maryland. Jack quit the CIA and now works as a professor at the Naval Academy. Unfortunately for him, his pals bust Miller out of jail during transport. Jack’s old boss Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) warns him of this and entreats him to return to the CIA, but Jack resists.
The terrorists wind their way toward America, where they have a few different missions in mind. Foremost for Miller, he plans to take down Jack and his family. We see their attack on the Ryans and its aftermath, an incident that puts Jack in the mind of revenge himself. To get back on top of things, he returns to the CIA and takes charge of this case. The rest of the film follows his attempts to nab the terrorists as well as their various plots and nastiness.
At its best, Patriot Games provides a taut thriller. The film’s strongest scene comes with the car chase midway through the flick. Director Phillip Noyce executes it in a clever and engrossing manner that makes it thrilling and tense. I especially like the amusing way that the baddies’ pursuit briefly gets halted.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t often repeat that tone elsewhere in the movie. At 116 minutes, Patriot is the shortest of the first four Ryan movies, but it feels like the longest, partially because it lacks much of a narrative. Essentially it’s just an extended revenge piece. The parts of the plot related to the IRA and Northern Ireland feel gratuitous and have almost nothing to do with the overall theme. Perhaps those elements blended better in Tom Clancy’s original novel, but here they seem pointless.
Actually, the Irish factors make Patriot appear both simplistic and excessively convoluted at the same time. While the movie’s plot remains simple, the different Irish elements cause much confusion and ultimately don’t make much sense. They aren’t well drawn or cleanly delineated, and they make the movie more of a chore to watch than they should.
Perhaps the filmmakers hoped those pieces would distract from the drabness of the various characters. Ford did better with the role of Ryan in Clear and Present Danger. In Patriot, he doesn’t quite seem to grasp the character’s non-violent nature. Ryan is supposed to be the quiet guy forced into aggressive situations, but here Ford makes him look a bit too forceful. The more passive tone came across much more effectively later, but in Patriot, Ford doesn’t get the personality fully.
None of the three main terrorists ever distinguish themselves. Perhaps after the presence of such a dynamic antagonist in Red October the filmmakers felt they should dial the baddies back a notch. They went too far, unfortunately, as this flick’s crew don’t make much of an impression. It seems like a surprise to feel so dispassionately toward them, especially since the actors behind the roles have talent. To be sure, Bean made a much more substantial impression as the villain in 1995’s Bond flick GoldenEye, so his bland personality here comes as a surprise.
I don’t want to convey the impression that I distinctly dislike Patriot Games, for I don’t. The movie gets a bit more interesting in its second half, and the climax offers some good drama, though it goes on far too long. While it seems moderately entertaining, Patriot simply fails to become anything more than that, and it doesn’t compare favorably with the other Ryan flicks.