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"The Sum of All Fears"

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson.
Written by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne.  Based on the novel by Tom Clancy. 
Starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  6/13/02 


So, let’s make sure I’m clear here—“The Sum of All Fears” is actually a prequel to the three previous films with CIA analyst Jack Ryan...and, Harrison Ford was actually pitched for this film?  Wisely, he turned it down, because it is hard enough watching Ford fake a Russian accent in the upcoming sub film “K-19: The Widowmaker”, let alone playing a 30-year-old adventure hero.

In Ford’s place stands Ben Affleck, who just last year headed up the disastrous “Pearl Harbor.”  Affleck plays Ryan as the up-and-coming analyst that he is in the book, and here, the plot is as politically dense as the other Jack Ryan films.  In “The Sum of All Fears”, Ryan teams up with a CIA mentor (Morgan Freeman) to figure out why three Russian scientists are missing from a research facility that produces nuclear missiles.  This plot seems to intersect with the black market sale of a 30-year-old Israeli nuke to a third party that threatens the American metropolis of...Baltimore?!

Clearly, there is much more to this story than I am willing to print here.  But, once again, Tom Clancy delivers.  Movies rarely present political intrigue like this anymore, and if you are willing to keep up, “The Sum of All Fears” keeps the intellect jogging with Ryan’s investigation and real-world military plotting.  Plus, most of the film’s action takes place over the phone or in political backrooms, not behind the barrel of a gun.  Some of the military actions are shown, but director Phil Alden Robinson (“Sneakers”, a great film) mostly stays with information reports or still photographs instead, which makes staying alert a priority while viewing.

Robinson also gets great work out of a large collection of character actors.  Freeman sticks to his roots as the Greatest Black Old Guy Mentor of All Time, and while he isn’t as good as he was in “Se7en” (his defining moment), he is worlds better than he was in this spring’s “High Crimes.”  James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Ron Rifkin, Philip Baker Hall and others shine in supporting roles throughout the movie.

But, the bulk of the lifting falls once again on the Ryan character, and Affleck handles this quite well.  After a string of pretty boy roles, I really think that Affleck is hitting his stride.  His self-deprecating turn in the hilarious “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”, his dramatic role in “Changing Lanes” and now this have all been hits.  I used to really not like Affleck, but it’s funny what being in good movies with strong scripts will do for you!

“The Sum of All Fears” does have a couple of problems, but nothing too huge.  One of the trickier problems is the time in which the film is set; it is America of 2002, but this is a prequel!  In Bond films (the only comparable book-to-film series, since lots of folks have played the same guy), you never know how old he is, and his experience level is always the same; here, Ryan’s experience is a very important part of the plot.

Other than that, a great film, and with “Insomnia” provide a couple of options in the adult thriller category.

Rating:  $9.00 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09