Retro Review: The Sum of All Fears

It has been a long time since there was an intelligent, good and thought-provoking spy-thriller.

Especially since the close of Cold War and the emergence of a James Bond not rendered from the Ian Fleming novels.

“The Sum of All Fears” stars Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who is just starting to see what the world of the CIA is really like. Jack has a cushy desk-job and an innocent and intelligent girlfriend (Bridget Moynahan).

When Jack discovers that some Russian nuclear scientists are missing and that a nuclear bomb has been sold on the black market, a race against the clock begins.

In the other three Jack Ryan films, the character has always been reluctant to be a spy, a family man and highly knowledgeable of CIA intelligence.

In this new entry in the series, a new direction is taken and Jack Ryan character has been altered to maintain the franchise. Ryan is now everything he was before except a family man.

The choice of Ben Affleck playing Jack Ryan is also a bold choice and an appropriate casting.

Affleck showed in his previous action-film “Reindeer Games” that he could play the reluctant hero who is thrown into something way over his head. The only struggle Affleck seems to endure in playing Ryan is delivering strong CIA techno-babble that we can believe. When he recoils those lines we aren’t sure if he knows what he just said or believes what he just said.

This can be both humorous and shocking. The evolution of the character does support the way Affleck plays the character but it is quite a bit different from previous Ryan’s. I liked Affleck in the lead role and look forward to seeing him grow with this character.

Affleck’s character is supported by four great character actors. Morgan Freeman plays Affleck’s mentor John Cabot, James Cromwell plays the President, Phillip Baker Hall plays the Defense Secretary and Alan Bates plays the sinister Richard Dressler. Each of these actors does great performances and really show the high-caliber of acting assembled for this picture.

The film itself reminded me a lot of “Thirteen Days” in its intensity and especially how it begins. The tension escalates as Ryan’s adventure patiently and methodically awakens. The film moves from a “Thirteen Days” style to more of a “Peacemaker” feel. The intensity shifts as a shock occurs that changes the outcome of the film.

The film’s plot and more importantly the shock are probably even more thrilling, intense and relevant after the events of September 11, 2001. What I enjoyed probably the most of this film was the layout and direction of this film. Like “Thirteen Days”, the film doesn’t take a breather and we are transfixed for the entirety of the film.

I also really enjoyed the scenes involving the conflicts between Affleck and Liev Schreiber, who plays John Clark, a CIA wet-works specialist. These confrontations reminded me a lot of the previous Jack Ryan movie, “Clear and Present Danger” where Harrison Ford and Willem Dafoe would have the similar arguments. Schreiber is great as the deadly Clark who has no qualms about getting his hands dirty.

The only flaw that I could see in the film was that it did start to feel long going into the third act but it was also necessary to finish the story. “Sum of All Fears” is a rare intelligent spy-thriller that will rejuvenate the Jack Ryan franchise.

(4.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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