Clear and Present Danger

(Originally published in spring 1995 in The Gleaner of Rutgers University-Camden.)

Harrison Ford is back as the intrepid Jack Ryan, the do-good CIA guy/Everyman with the kind of integrity that only a fictional political character could have. In this third adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel (following The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games), Ryan finds himself a Deputy Director in the CIA embroiled in an undeclared war in Central America.

Ryan is the sort of character that’s impossibly well-rounded: he’s a loving father, a devoted husband, and he’s the paragon of trust and discipline in government. He can stop locomotives with his bare hands, he can deflect bullets with his chest, and he can leap tall buildings in a single bound. But as startlingly unrealistic as Ryan’s character is, Ford plays him straight, like a normal guy-next-door who just happens to be thrust into important and exciting events. He seems, at times, overwhelmed and bewildered at his situation, and often carries a naturalistic expression of Why am I here? on his countenance, much like Admiral Stockdale in the ’94 Vice Presidential debates.

James Earl Jones, who played Admiral Greer in the first two Clancy adaptations, is back, but the venerable soldier is on his last legs, it seems; he appoints Ryan to stand in for him as CIA Director and thrusts him squarely into the mix of Washington politics. Ryan, the good guy who probably got beat up in school for reminding the teacher of homework, does not appear to the politicos to be playing the age-old Washington game of going-along-with-the-program. He is quickly shut out of the loop, even as a crisis arises in Central America. In a plot ripped from headlines of not too long ago, soldiers of either the government or rebel persuasion are picking off U.S. civilians down south. The President, not wishing an all-out war with the nation’s government or its rebels, illicitly sends down troops to combat the guerrilas. When the plan backfires, and the soldiers are stranded by the U.S., the president and his staff place the public blame on one Jack Ryan. (See what happens when you play a do-gooder? People try to get you anyway.)

Now, in most other films like this (and, one suspects, in real life), if Ryan wanted to redeem himself he’d send down a trusted aide to find out some information. But Ryan is Superman, and he goes down himself.

To give away any more would be a tragic sin. Suffice to say that although Ryan seems like a pencil-pushing, skinny-necked geekozoid, he’s manly enough to jump right in the middle of things. Of course, a central reason for this development is that the film needs action with its action star, and there is plenty of it. Lotsa bombs bursting in the air… and on the ground, and… well, you get the idea. There’s a lot of guns and ammo.

As for Ford’s support crew, Anne Archer is back for another turn as Ryan’s long-suffering doctor-wife and Thora Birch returns as his sprightly daughter. Willem Dafoe turns in a solid performance as Ryan’s Central America group leader. Jones is fine when he’s onscreen, a commanding presence as always.

The plot may get a little confusing at times, especially near the end as Ryan tries to figure out all the ramifications and implications of his actions. Stick with it, though; there’s plenty of harrowing action to last anyone until the next Jack Ryan movie comes out. And aside from some stereotyping of bad guys, the characterization and script are top-notch.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: