Friday, October 23, 2020

Green Phoenix - Patriot Games Review

I am so excited to finally get a chance to review Patriot Games. When I decided to do a review of the Tom Clancy trilogy of films, this was the reason I ultimately decided to do it. I make no secret of my love for this film in particular and honestly just want to give it the most amount of love and affection that I can honestly give it. So much so, that I've actually given myself two weeks to work on this review rather than the usual one week and decided to leave this as something of a birthday present to myself.

Released in 1992 as the sequel to the 1990 film  The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games was itself an adaptation of Tom Clancy's 1987 bestselling novel. Though disavowed by Clancy for being too different from his original story, the film was critically and commercially well-received upon its release, considered a much more emotional and engaging viewing experience when compared to the much slower The Hunt For Red October.

While the general consensus of the film post-release has leaned towards its many differences to the source material, the quality of its set pieces and strength of performances, especially by Harrison Ford, has endeared this film in the hearts of many, myself included. With the opportunity to sing the praises of this film and share it with a wider audience now available to me, I cannot wait to go into a deeper dive with the film that I believe to be the best of the Clancy adaptations.

  • Directed by Phillip Noyce
  • Produced by Paramount Pictures
  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Running Time: 117 Minutes


While on vacation in London, retired CIA analyst Jack Ryan, played by Harrison Ford, intervenes in an assassination attempt on Lord William Holmes, the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, by terrorists. During the attempt, Ryan kills the brother of one of the assassins, Sean Miller, played by Sean Bean. Sean who is a member of a splinter faction of the Irish Republican Army swears vengeance on Ryan and his family.

When Sean Miller escapes custody and attacks Ryan's family, Jack Ryan is forced back into the CIA to help hunt Miller and the rest of his splinter faction down. All of which leads to a thrilling action sequence at the Ryan household.



As stated in the introduction, I absolutely adore Patriot Games and relish the opportunities to watch it whenever I get the chance. A much darker and more personal story in the Tom Clancy universe, Patriot Games matches the same cerebral espionage focus from The Hunt for Red October with an action focus more akin to films like The Fugitive. This coupled with a haunting musical composition and stellar performances from legendary actors leaves Patriot Games among the finest in spy films, even if Jack Ryan is not your traditional spy film protagonist.

VISUALS - 8/10

In many ways, Patriot Games is visually similar to is prequel film, The Hunt for Red October, focusing on a much more subdued and cerebral style of animation and narrative story-telling that is much more dialog focused. But Patriot Games is a visually superior film at the end of the day, due largely to the quality and quantity of its action set pieces.

The film is a much more action-oriented affair, which is aided by the presence of Harrison Ford as the protagonist Jack Ryan, which helps the audience to be much more invested in what is ultimately a much more human and emotional story than its predecessor.

And the action set pieces really are quite spectacular, even if they were, I believe, one of the reasons why Tom Clancy disavowed this film prior to its release. In particular, the highway chase and finale boat fight are in my mind an iconic moment in the franchise. The chase is especially haunting because of just how realistic and down-to-earth such an attack truly is, especially in our post-war on terror cinematic landscape.

Beyond the action scenes, the film has a somewhat dreary and somber visual aesthetic, which is largely due to the locations of the Maryland coast of the Ryan family home and of course the British Isles (the lands of fog and rain). This visual focus on the grim really helps to give this film an altogether different tone from the cramped darkness of The Hunt for Red October or the contrast between filthy jungle and antisceptic governmental offices that defines Clear and Present Danger. A tone that I rather enjoy coupled with the much more mature storyline.


Given the film's general setting and narrative focus on The Troubles, Patriot Games soundtrack possesses a decidedly Celtic flair to its overall sound. This is due in large part to the performance talents of Maggie Boyle, who delivers some truly haunting musical moments. This coupled with stunning compositions by James Horner leaves Patriot Games a genuine treat for the ears and instantly recognizable among the Clancy trilogy of films.

If I had to say my favorite pieces of the film, it would have to be the initial opening theme, which is just chilling and immediately puts into the somber and tense atmosphere of the film; and then there is the "Theme from Harry's Game" performed by Clannad, which is used masterfully during O'Donnel's betrayal of O'Reardon towards the beginning of the movie.

The whole film is fairly understated in many scenes due to the heavy need for dialogue throughout, but it manages to capture the true emotionality of the narrative in a way that The Hunt for Red October was, while successful at, not nearly as effective.


I'll come right out and say it, Harrison Ford is a much better Jack Ryan than Alec Baldwin. While Baldwin managed to capture the nerdy pencil-pusher turned unwilling spy, Ford captures the well-meaning retired Marine struggling to do the right thing and hold to his convictions, a portrayal that is far more dynamic in a much more personal story. Harrison Ford is, as usual, a powerful force on the screen and you really end up feeling for Jack Ryan and his personal struggle and desire to protect his family.

His counterpart in the film is the Irish terrorist Sean Miller, played by Sean Bean, who is both a small physical presence in the film when compared to his boss, Kevin O'Donnell played by Patrick Bergin, and yet his influence on events is almost stifling and coming off as something similar to a horror movie villain, especially during the highway chase and the late-night phone call scene. 

The rest of the cast is equally stunning, with Samuel Jackson and James Earl Jones playing small but critical roles as Jack Ryan's best friend and mentor respectively. Anne Archer and Thora Birch as Ryan's wife and daughter become his emotional center and remain the real heart of the movie. And the IRA terrorists are equal parts bloodthirsty and chillingly persuasive in so many of their scenes. There are so many moments in the film when the character's actions will leave your jaws on the floor and really goes to show how character-focused Patriot Games really is.

STORY - 8/10

Among my chief criticisms of The Hunt for Red October was the lack of a personal connection or vested interest in the audience as to the outcome of the story. Whether or not the crew of the Red October managed to successfully defect to the United States wasn't all that impactful to the audience and left the overall story, especially Jack Ryan's connection to it all, rather tenuous at best. This put a great deal of pressure on Patriot Games to provide a much more emotionally-charged narrative. Although this was not the only pressure put upon the film.

Though The Hunt for Red October was released in 1990, it finished production right as the Soviet Union was collapsing and the Cold War, the very impetus behind the film's narrative, ceased to be a political reality for the rest of the world. This meant that Patriot Games had to be a spy movie in a post-Cold War world, which would've been a daunting task at that time; notwithstanding the need for a human-driven story.

Thankfully, the producers of the Tom Clancy trilogy made the ingenious decision to adapt Patriot Games, a story surrounding the Troubles in Ireland (which wouldn't be resolved until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998) and the personal struggle of Jack Ryan to protect his family from IRA terrorists. With a single film selection, the producers of Patriot Games were granted a chilling and suspenseful spy and espionage film that's entire narrative was formed by a personal drive by Jack Ryan to protect his family and capture Sean Miller.

The film is thematically dark and grim, which is understandable given the subject matter and is the only film in the Tom Clancy trilogy to have an R-rating. And this rating is very well deserved with extreme acts of terrorism and violence throughout and quite a few moments of severe language and sexual acts.

The film is not for children and can be quite chilling to watch. I highly recommend it for its tense atmosphere and the enjoyable balance of cerebral dialog with heart-pounding action. Patriot Games really does stand out as a hallmark of the 1990s spy genre and is a wonderfully nostalgic movie for me to watch and recommend.


Patriot Games is, in my personal opinion, a classic of 1990s action movies and one of the best Harrison Ford performances in his long and storied career. The film is emotionally charged and suspenseful, with a deeply personal conflict between hero and villain. Patriot Games corrects the mistake of its prequel film by better balancing board room chats and computer screen dialog moments with bracing moments of action and violence that excite the audience and drive home the danger to everything Jack Ryan holds dear.

The film is easily my favorite film in the trilogy and I plan to watch it again very soon. Now, we will back with another review next time as we slowly approach the end of the year and the holiday season break in December. Next time, I take a look at an animated Halloween classic.

  • 8/10
  • 9/10
  • 9/10
  • 8/10

 FINAL SCORE - 8.5/10

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