Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Clear and Present Danger (1994) ***

PG-13, 141 min.
Director: Phillip Noyce
Writers: Donald Stewart, Steven Zaillian, John Milius, Tom Clancy (novel)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, Anne Archer, Joaquim de Almeida, Henry Czerny, Harris Yulin, Donald Moffat, Miguel Sandoval, Benjamin Bratt, Raymond Cruz, Dean Jones, Thora Birch, Ann Magnuson, Belita Moreno, James Earl Jones, Greg Germann, Ellen Greer, Ted Raimi

It is during “Clear and Present Danger” when Tom Clancy’s CIA hero Jack Ryan finally realizes his purpose. Ryan is Clancy’s own fantasy of the pure CIA heart of honor righting the wrongs of American politics and corruption while staying true to his roots as a soldier. This is the movie in which all that has come before finally reaches its fruition.

Although the plot of this film deals heavily with the war on drugs—a problem isolated to our own shores—it still holds the global scope that Ryan’s adventures aspire to be because Ryan’s war is with the corruption at seat in the office of the most powerful politician in the world, the President of the United States. Whenever I watch this movie I wonder just what went wrong behind the scenes at Paramount that they didn’t continue their ideas with Clancy’s novels and follow Ryan’s adventures into the White House. While they were working out script details or possibly money demands—I don’t know—Harrison Ford went ahead and took the President’s chair in the much more action-oriented vehicle for Columbia “Air Force One”. I guess then they were stuck with a problem and decided to reboot before rebooting was cool with Ben Affleck taking Ryan back in age and experience in “The Sum of All Fears” despite the fact that “Fears” did follow “Danger” in the book series.

But I suppose that’s for my next Ryan review. Again, I think the power in “Danger” lies in the fact that Ryan is not a traditional action hero. Soldiers handle the action, an elite squad that doesn’t even exist as far as Ryan knows, for most of the film. And yet it is the very betrayal of those soldiers that allows Ryan to finally take the true heroic reigns of the film to do the right thing, the American thing, and save those soldiers. The real enemies here are not the drug cartels but the very members of the American government who are willing to broker deals and entertain petty vendettas at the cost of the American people.

Like “Red October” none of Ryan’s choices are obvious or easy and this time he’s in the string pulling seat that James Earl Jones occupies in “Red October”. It’s quite a character evolution that occurs from episode one of the trilogy to episode three. Some of that progression is seen in episode two, but that movie failed to make that transition the focal point of the film. This deals with Ryan’s evolution much more directly, and with a compelling plot to boot. It does descend a little during the final act into the more typical thriller action mindset with Ryan still in the center of things where he shouldn’t, but getting too far away from Hollywood formula might be asking a little much from audiences.

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