The Sum Of All Fears


Directed by: Phil Alden Robinson
Written by:Paul Attanasio, Daniel Pyne
Starring: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Bates, Ron Rifkin, Philip Baker Hall
Released: August 29, 2002
Grade: B+

The Sum Of All Fears deals with two very serious issues - terrorism and nuclear weapons.  Despite this, the film is gimicky entertainment - a far-fetched fantasy tale that takes fragments from Tom Clancy’s lengthy novel to give us two hours of fun.

As the unlikely hero, Ben Affleck is Jack Ryan, a regular guy who happened to write a well researched article about a Russian politician, Alexander Nemerov.  When the current Russian President dies of a heart-attack, Nemerov is appointed leaving the CIA back in the States anxious for information about the new leader.  Ryan is called in and acts under the wing of presidential adviser William Cabot (Freeman).

The two go to Russia to greet Nemerov.  They also inspect a nuclear facility to ensure the government is complying with the treaty to dismantle a large percentage of their nuclear arsenal.  Newcomer Ryan notes that several scientists are missing and Cabot uses field agent John Clark (Schreiber) to investigate further.

On arriving back in America, both Ryan and Cabot release a serious situation is building.  A nuclear weapon which was lost in a 1973 plane crash has fallen into the hands of terrorists.  They are using scientists to reconfigure the bomb.  Sneaking it into America they plan on instigating a full-scale war between the United States and Russia.  It seems only Ryan can save the day.

To the film’s credit, it held my attention all the way through and the final 45 minutes is particularly riveting.  Having been based on a popular novel, there was always going to be plenty of material but I think the cinematic adaptation focuses on the wrong elements.  For example, Affleck has a love interest played by Bridget Moynahan.  She is useless, a complete distraction and adds nothing whatsoever.  The dialogue they share brought back memories of the soppy mushiness I remember Affleck uttering with Liv Tyler in Armageddon.

A key moment in the film occurs in Baltimore at the Superbowl.  Without spoiling it (for those who haven’t seen the trailer), I was stunned at the way the film focussed more on the actions of Ryan and the President (played by James Cromwell) rather than the aftermath of the event.  I can confirm several parts of the film were watered down following the September 11 bombings.  This is just stupid and again highlights the fact that Americans have trouble facing reality.  As a result, the film didn’t pack the punch that it should.

Still, I had fun watching Affleck run all over the place trying to save the world (i.e. America).  There are cheesy lines and overused clichés but most can be overlooked in the situation.  In the last two major films based on Tom Clancy novels, Clear And Present Games and Patriot Games, Harrison Ford had the role of Jack Ryan.  I guess Affleck was the studio’s attempt to have the series appeal to a younger audience but he doesn’t have the serious disposition that Ford brought to the role.  The script gives Affleck too much opportunity to act lightheartedly.

With the right amount of coke and popcorn, there is nothing to fear about The Sum Of All Fears.  Then again, there’s not much worth writing about either.