Paramount // 1994 // 141 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // May 13th, 2003
Watch your back, Jack.
Paramount replaces yet another bare-bones release of a Tom Clancy-based film, adding a dash of genuine extra content, a charming DTS track, and an excellent video transfer.
When a close ally of the President of the United States (Donald Moffat) is killed, it turns out that he was joined at the hip with the Cali, Colombia drug cartels, specifically one led by Ernesto Escobeda (Miguel Sandoval). Meanwhile, Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) finds himself overwhelmed with work when his boss, Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) takes seriously ill. This provides National Security Adviser James Cutter (Harris Yulin) and deputy CIA director Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny) to proceed with a presidential nod and wink to implement some revenge.
Cutter and Ritter are running their own private war against the Cali drug cartels. Coordinated by an old hand at the covert game, John Clark (Willem Dafoe), a team of highly trained special operations soldiers, led by Captain Ramirez (Benjamin Bratt), plays merry mayhem with planes, laboratories, and the entire cartel infrastructure. Of course, Escobeda's chief of intelligence, former Cuban Col. Felix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida) counters with his own plans, trapping the soldiers between a rock and a hard place, placing Ryan in the middle of a firefight and threatening to expose Cutter's machinations. As sticky matters get even stickier, Ryan finds himself implicated in a web of deceit, but he is determined to reveal the truth even as he must fight to prevent further loss of life.
Apparently, making Patriot Games was so much fun that the participants did not want to gamble on whether they would work together again. Why not do it all again, right away? So, not long after director Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Sliver, Rabbit-Proof Fence) put Patriot Games to bed, he began work in Clear and Present Danger with much the same cast and crew. The similarities in humanity and artistic approach give Clear and Present Danger a bit of a flavor of the sequel, but the shift in material keeps the film from getting sequel-itis.
Whereas Patriot Games was a personal story of one man's fight against terrorism, Clear and Present Danger is a story about the use and abuse of political power and its effect on those who wield it. Plainly inspired by the real-life controversies surrounding the Iran-Contra affair with Admiral John Poindexter and Lt. Colonel Oliver North, Tom Clancy spun the facts into his own cautionary tale about the foibles and temptations of men who wield political power. Draw parallels at your own peril!
The heart of Clear and Present Danger is that momentous changes in policy, such as the use of military power, must not be made with a wink and a nod in a fit of personal pique (or shame), without due deliberation and planning. Moreover, once committed, a president commits a more terrible error by breaking faith with his soldiers and sacrificing them for petty political purposes. Political considerations will always constrain and guide the application of military power, but Clancy believes that they should not leave soldiers out on thin ice, lacking the support they deserve. Shades of Black Hawk Down, perhaps?
Aside from the political intelligence of the film, Clear and Present Danger boasts some fantastic scenes. The pounding waves of the opening Coast Guard pursuit, the pin-point horror of the laser-guided bombing of a Cali cartel meeting, and the ambush of Ryan's motorcade in the slums of Bogotá are all riveting in their own fashion. However, when Clear and Present Danger makes an electronic burglary of Ritter's office computer as tense as any traditional heist, you are sure that this is a quality action-thriller.
Harrison Ford (Star Wars, Blade Runner, Presumed Innocent), Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction, Body of Evidence), and Thora Birch (American Beauty, Ghost World) continue their excellent work from Patriot Games. James Earl Jones (Conan the Barbarian, Matewan, Sneakers) has even less screen time here, but packs an even greater emotional charge in his scenes.
The newcomers to the cast fit in well, though a few stand out. Joaquim de Almeida (Desperado, Behind Enemy Lines) effortlessly combines Latin charm and a cold mercenary's heart into one man, earning for Cortez our grudging respect even as we cheer for his defeat. Henry Czerny (Mission: Impossible, The Ice Storm) earns no such respect for Ritter. Exuding arrogant evil from every pore, Ritter is simply hated -- a good, honest hate. That is still a fine acting achievement!
The anamorphic video is solid. Enjoy the vivid, well-saturated colors, a clean picture, decent sharpness, and well-controlled digital artifacting. What's not to like? The audio is again graced by the addition of a fine DTS track that reproduces the stirring contributions of James Horner (and his classical assistants Antonín Dvorák, Gioacchino Rossini, and Dmitri Shostakovich) in exquisite fashion. The effects are not quite as impressive, nor the sonic thunder as compelling as in Patriot Games, but this is only a manner of slim degrees.
One similarity with Patriot Games that is not welcome is the Hollywood-ified ending. Forget the impressively coordinated and heroic efforts of a military team in the novel, we have to have a shoestring ending with Ryan trading blows with the bad guy (after a stop at Used 'Copters R Us). Well, at least it's not a purely one-on-one fantasy with the contributions of John Clark and Ding Chavez (Raymond Cruz), but that mitigates the action cheese factor only slightly.
Harris Yulin (Ghostbusters 2, 24), the John Poindexter of Clear and Present Danger, faces a conundrum in the film. That is, the written role of James Cutter is fairly bland, his motivation a mystery, leaving it up to the actor to add his own distinctive imprint on the role. Regrettably, Yulin leaves Cutter as the same colorless, flavorless autocrat that he started with. What makes Cutter tick? Film lovers will never know...
On the other hand, Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Mississippi Burning, Spider-Man) puts his heart and soul into the mercenary Mister Clark, but that's not the problem. His look and body language are wrong for the reserved special-ops guru, particularly when set against the dead-pan professionalism of Liev Schreiber as Clark in The Sum of All Fears. Still, that's a casting decision, not Dafoe's fault, and neither is it more than a minor complaint.
In case you were wondering what Poindexter and North have been up to of late, check out the Accomplices links. In a twist of irony, Poindexter had pretty much dropped off the public radar until the recent Total Information Awareness fracas brought him back into the headlines.
Finally, on the subject of extra content, I hate to sound like a broken record, but it's the same tune, different day. This is a "Special Collector's Edition"?? The "Behind the Danger" featurette covers the basics through a collection of interviews with the major players. Expect no surprises or significant insights here, but it is a step above public relations fluff and better than no content at all. Between Noyce's two turns as director, we couldn't get at least one commentary track, either here or on Patriot Games? Oh, don't forget the theatrical trailer! (Ooooh! Ahhhh!)
In the interests of space, see my review of the Patriot Games Special Edition for my complaints on the curious listing of the DTS track and mandatory disclaimers, which apply with equal force here. These are small matters, but they indicate a lack of attention to detail that is not comforting.
A solid, widely appealing and intelligent thriller, Clear and Present Danger is a no-brainer rental and worthy for consideration as an addition to your ever expanding DVD collection ($20 list). It may not break new ground or expand your horizons, but it does sustain your interest as it entertains you. Many films can't say that!
Clear and Present Danger poses no danger to the community, as it is chock full of entertainment goodness. As for Paramount, how about just making special editions that are chock full of bonus content goodness? Go ahead and get started, I'll wait...
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 141 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "Behind the Danger" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailers
* Common Sense Radio (Oliver North)