Towards the end of last year, I had the pleasure of introducing the second episode of my Let's Talk... series of articles by speaking upon my opinions of adapting the Jack Ryanverse series of books by Tom Clancy. In that article, I mentioned my absolute adoration for the 90s Tom Clancy trilogy of films. Now I've written about The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games previously, so we have only one film left to go.
Released in 1994, Clear and Present Danger has always been a strange film when compared to the other two. One part political thriller and one part military action film, I found Clear and Present Danger the most difficult of the three films to get invested in personally, though the film sees the return of a stunning cast, as well as the introduction of Willem Dafoe as John Clark, a character to actually plays a fairly significant role in the Tom Clancy universe.
Despite being a financial success, this film would mark the end of the Tom Clancy film series until the release of the failed rebooted franchise in 2002's The Sum of All Fears, which I don't have to tell you isn't a very good film and was clearly impacted by the cultural fallout from 9/11.
Which now that I think about it, could really be a summation of the entire Tom Clancy cinematic history. A franchise of excellent political and military thrillers, done in by the inexorable shifting of global politics that drive their stories into obsolescence.
At least...that's what I was going to say until the days leading into the January 6th Capitol Insurrection showed me that apparently a movie about a lone government official combating unconstitutional and illegal activities perpetrated from the very highest offices of government for a personal agenda weren't completely ridiculous. This review was delayed weeks by the change in my review format as well as the shifting sands of the American political climate. It all coalesced to make me reconsider my position on the relevancy of Tom Clancy in an age where internal clear and present dangers are very real and far more deadly than even fiction can come up with.
- Directed by Philip Noyce
- Produced by Mace Neufeld Productions
- MPAA Rating: PG-13
- Running Time: 141 Minutes
When the death of a friend of the U.S. President is linked to drug cartel activities, the U.S. President informs his National Security Advisor of plans to deal with Colombian drug cartels through military means. To do so, they enlist the unknowing assistance of Jack Ryan, the Acting Deputy Director of Intelligence following his mentor's recent bout of cancer, to acquire funds from Congress for "counter-drug" operations, with the provision that the funds will not be used for military incursion.
With Ryan kept in the dark about the military operations, the Deputy Director of the CIA sends John Clark, a Special Operations soldier into Colombia to attack and damage drug operations. But when one operation results in collateral damage and bad press, the mission is scrubbed, troops are abandoned and Jack Ryan begins looking into the program he sold to Congress. What he discovers will force him to risk his life in Colombia to save the lost soldiers and place him directly in the path of not only the Colombian drug cartels but the crimes perpetrated by the President of the United States himself.
Clear and Present Danger has always been my least favorite of the 1990s Tom Clancy trilogy. Not through any personal failings of the film per se, but simply because the subject matter and political corruption either didn't capture my attention or made me deeply uncomfortable. That uncomfortability has not decreased as so much of what was fiction began to be replicated in the real world but I am committed to reviewing the film, so review it I shall.
The story is, like many Tom Clancy stories, a very involved and dialog heavy one. Though the film does take more from 1980s and 1990s action films, especially in the jungle operations and final rescue sequence, than its predecessors Clear and Present Danger is still predominately a political thriller that is more comfortable in office spaces than the outside world. The dichotomy between office drama moments and heart-pounding action has always been an element of the Tom Clancy series to some degree, though I think that Clear and Present Danger might have the best balance between the two, by keeping them largely separated for the majority of the film.
The unfortunate consequence of this is that it means that unless you are particularly interested in high-stakes political thrillers, a good portion of this film may be tremendously boring to you. Clear and Present Danger falls somewhat into the same trap that its predecessors does for those more attracted to action than slow-moving drama.I somewhat fall into this mindset though as I have gotten older and more politically savvy, the political battlefield has become much more engaging.
The themes of corruption and abuse of politic power in American government is something which, as you can imagine, resonates very deeply with current events. I was prepared at first to discount this film as a victim of the history shifting away from Cold War politics much like The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games, but the recent Capitol Insurrection and the signs of corruption and treason perpetrated at the highest seats of government suddenly resonate scarily true, though we lack a Jack Ryan figure to save our system at the expense of his personal reputation. Watching this film can be somewhat uncomfortable for those who are witnessing the levels of ease at which our current politicians lie and cheat. It is a theme which is only more likely to gain in relevance in the coming days and it even brought me to look into a alternate history book that I will be reviewing in a few weeks that covers a similar theme of societal corruption.
So much of this story is aided by stellar performances of the films cast, Harrison Ford is, as you might imagine, a fucking powerhouse. He reprises his role of Jack Ryan from Patriot Games and retains that well-meaning wholesome American everyman vibe that is so quintessential to the character. In many ways, Jack Ryan is a criticism of the James Bond style spy and Harrison Ford really captures the good-natured heroic side, though I don't quite buy the beleaguered pencil-pusher that Alec Baldwin was much better at portraying. This is honestly just the nature of how Ford approached most of his "everyman" characters back in the 90s, as seen in films like The Fugitive.
In a surprising move, Ford actually shares his protagonist status with Willam Dafoe who plays John Clark, a character that is likely more familiar to those who play the Tom Clancy video games. This is the only film where Clark makes his appearance (I am not including Sum of All Fears) and despite Dafoe's powerful presence of character in most of his roles, he is surprisingly subdued in this film. This is somewhat a consequence of Clark's role as a no-nonsense military man, which surprisingly both compliments and contrasts Ryan's idealistic bureaucrat.
Beyond our two protagonists, the film is also filled with the talents of Donald Moffat as the United States President, who manages to balance scummy politician with a faux-grandfatherlyness towards Ryan. We also have Henry Czerny as Bob Ritter, Ryan's coworker who is the principal architect of the black ops plot who is just the sleaziest of scumbags. Like you almost wish that Jack Ryan who just deck this self-righteous asshole. And on the other side of the equation we have Raymond Cruz as Dominigo Chavez (another mainstay of the Tom Clancy video games) who is just a grade-A badass, and Joaquim de Almeida and Miguel Sandoval as the two principal Colombian cartel villains. They manage to balance charisma with ruthless cruelty in a truly spellbinding way. While Ritter, Cutter (the National Security Advisor), and the President are the villains of the story, the Colombian cartel is quite an excellent antagonist.
So we have a stellar cast and a fairly engaging, if dry for those uninterested in politics or unable to see the correlation to current events. But another point I wish to bring up is the cinematic features. Much like its prequel films, Clear and Present Danger has a distinct visual style that helps to distinguish it from its preceding films. Where The Hunt for Red October is dark and claustrophobic and Patriot Games is cold and wet to match the winter season and give the film a "British" feel to it, Clear and Present Danger splits the visual aesthetics into two camps to help distinguish and contrast the worlds of Ryan and Clark. The jungles of Colombia are wet, humid, and vibrant in color. This is contrasted with sterile and colorless offices of the CIA and matches the moral grayness of the participants in the political corruption. It is a very stark and noticeable difference and I believe it really does contribute to the overall theme in a very subtle way.
All in all, Clear and Present Danger is a perfectly serviceable Tom Clancy film. It's not my favorite in the franchise by a wide margin and many of the elements are very,very 90s and dated. But the themes and commentary on the dangers of government corruption and abuse of power are perhaps more relevant than they've been in years. I think the trailer sets up the argument of the film quite well, "Some say the greatest threat to America comes from other nations, others say the greatest threat to America comes from within."
FINAL SCORE - 7.5/10
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