Movie Review: The Sum of All Fears

The Sum of All Fears is the fourth Tom Clancy story to make it to the big screen. This latest Clancy adaptation tells the tale of an Israeli tactical nuke which is lost to the desert sands due to a jet fighter crash. The nuke is later dug up by locals, who, not realizing the dangerous nature of their find, sell it to an agent (played by Colm Feore) of a global Nazi conspiracy who plot to use the nuke as their deadly centerpiece in a terrorist ploy to get the U.S. and Russia to destroy each other.

CIA historian Jack Ryan is the only man who can uncover and stop the Nazi plot and save the two countries from nuclear destruction (the villains are different from those in the novel). Part of his unique position stems from him being the only U.S. advisor to correctly realize that new Russian president Alexander Nemerov (played by Ciaran Hinds) is not the sort of man to commit atrocity. Fueled as much by his own stubborn conviction that he’s right about Nemerov as by his fear of nuclear war, Ryan races against the clock to untangle the conspiracy’s threads and gather evidence to try to convince the fiery American president (played by James Cromwell) to back down as the two countries move ever closer to war.

Ben Affleck stars as Jack Ryan, thus filling some fairly large shoes left behind by Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin. Affleck does a respectable job as this young, inexperienced version of Ryan, though his performance here isn’t as good as the turn he did as a vengeful angel in Dogma.

Director Phil Alden Robinson has stocked the film with some of the best aging character actors Hollywood has to offer: Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Alan Bates, Colm Feore, Ciaran Hinds, and Ron Rifkin all turn in good performances here. Liev Schreiber also does well as a CIA operative who is called back into duty, supposedly just to gather information (though we all know he’s going to be deep in the action by the time the movie’s over).

The movie is a bit slow at the start and keeping track of all the characters is a bit confusing at first; this is no doubt a function of the complexity of the source material. But once things get going, this is a very suspenseful and entertaining film. It’s good to see on the wide screen just to get the full benefit of the very decent special effects, particularly an attack on a U.S. aircraft carrier and a nuclear explosion.

Overall, this is a very well-directed film, and I think scriptwriters Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne did the best that could be expected in adapting Clancy’s novel.

Movie Information

Release Year: 2002

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 124 minutes

Director: Phil Alden Robinson

Writers: Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne

Cinematography: John Lindley

Score: Jerry Goldsmith


Ben Affleck: Jack Ryan
Morgan Freeman: DCI William Cabot
James Cromwell: President Robert Fowler
Liev Schreiber: John Clark
Bridget Moynahan: Dr. Cathy Muller
Alan Bates: Dressler
Ciaran Hinds: President Alexander Nemerov
Philip Baker Hall: Defense Secretary Becker
Ron Rifkin: Secretary of State Sidney Owens
Bruce McGill: National Security Advisor Revell
Colm Feore: Olson
Josef Sommer: Senator Jessup
Ian Mongrain: Syrian Radar Operator
Russell Bobbitt: Israeli Pilot
Ken Jenkins: Admiral Pollack

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