Paramount // 1994 // 141 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 8th, 2008
Truth needs a soldier.
Ritter: "Jack, computer theft is a serious crime.
"Jack: "So are crimes against the Constitution."
CIA Analyst Jack Ryan is now officially out of retirement, and now he's moving to a higher rank. Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones, Patriot Games) has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he has asked Ryan to take over as acting CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence. Ryan is honored to accept the position while Greer battles for his life, but he's got a considerable challenge to take on. He's being asked to investigate the murder of one of the President's close friends, who may or may not have been involved with a Columbian drug cartel. There's more to the case than Ryan knows. A skilled assassin (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man) has been secretly hired to launch on all-out attack on one of the drug cartels. How many people are pulling strings behind the scenes? Who is going to benefit? Most important, can Ryan put the pieces together before there are deadly consequences?
The evolution of the Jack Ryan franchise (based on a series of novels by Tom Clancy) has been particularly compelling. The first film, The Hunt for Red October, was a suspenseful character-driven drama. The second film, Patriot Games, added a moderate amount of action into the mix. Clear and Present Danger makes the transition complete, offering us a full-blown action-adventure movie. Thankfully, the increase in action and explosions does not force all the trademark thoughtfulness of the series to fly out the window.
The two most interesting stories in the franchise are arguably the current bookends of the series, The Hunt for Red October and The Sum of All Fears. However, I would contend that Harrison Ford is the best Jack Ryan. He plays this part so well, bringing his unique brand of natural acting to the proceedings. By the conclusion of Clear and Present Danger, he is more or less forced to become Indiana Jones. However, Ford does such a solid job of establishing the unique personality of this character that we're not stuck with a mere reprisal of one of Ford's more well-known cinematic icons. However, it could be argued that these roles hint at the performance Ford would give a few years later in Air Force One, which I like to think of as an "unofficial" Jack Ryan film.
I'm hardly the sort of person who trusts the U.S. Government, but it's kind of refreshing to see films like this one that actually give politicians a fair shake. The vast majority of cinema paints politicians as inept and/or corrupt. To be sure, there's plenty of that here, too. However, there is also a handful of intelligent and thoughtful people simply trying to do the right thing for the country. Clear and Present Danger could hardly be described as right-wing propaganda, but it doesn't resort to the standard-issue cheap shots that have become a little bit tiresome over time. I particularly like the atypically complex portrayal of the President (Donald Moffat, Cookie's Fortune), who regularly switches gears between wisdom, pride, kindness, and greed. Movies are frequently willing to grant this thoughtful treatment to a lot of villains, but resort to one-dimensional stereotypes when dealing with political figures. That is not the case here.
The supporting cast doesn't feature quite as many notable names as the other films in the franchise, but there are still some nice turns here. James Earl Jones turns in yet another fine performance as Admiral Greer. It's a shame this fine actor hasn't been used more than he has in Hollywood. Willem Dafoe also has a nice turn here, once again playing a character that may or may not be corrupt and evil. There's no doubt about Ritter, the CIA agent played by Henry Czerny, who radiates pure white-collar evil. Anne Archer and Thora Birch return to play Ryan's wife and daughter, but they have precious little to do this time around.
The hi-def transfer is a considerable step up from the two preceding Jack Ryan films. This transfer seems to be free of grain and scratches, with solid flesh tones and sharp facial detail. Blacks are nice and deep, too. The sound is particularly strong, with James Horner's score getting a rich mix here. Interestingly, Horner takes a drastically different approach here than he did with his Patriot Games score. Horner's previous outing featured a blend of dramatic action music and Irish elements, while this score features anthem-driven Americana and some ethnic flavor courtesy of South American woodwind instruments. It's interesting stuff. Speaking of South America, some of the scenes that take place in the jungle there feature some exceptional sound design work. The only special features here are a decent making-of featurette and a trailer.
Clear and Present Danger is the longest Jack Ryan film, with a running time of 141 minutes. It is also the least deserving of that running time, feeling needlessly padded by too many scenes featuring a dull set of villains. Why are drug dealers almost always always so incredibly dull in action movies? I've seen oh-so-many films (particularly a lot from the 1980s and 1990s) featuring drug dealers as the villains, but I can count the ones featuring interesting drug dealers on one hand. Clear and Present Danger is not on that hand. The villains here are very banal baddies, and we spend about 75% more time with them than we really need to.
Additionally, the action scenes in the film's third act aren't quite as engaging as one might hope. Director Phillip Noyce doesn't manage to provide the intensity he gave the action scenes in Patriot Games. At first, one is tempted to think this is due to a rating change (this film is PG-13, Patriot Games was rated R), but I doubt this. It's not that hard to provide high-octane thrills in a PG-13 film. However, Noyce generally tends to be better at telling dramatic stories than at creating action movies. There's a pretty large gap in quality between this film and The Quiet American.
Clear and Present Danger is perhaps the low point of the Jack Ryan franchise, but only by a small margin. I'm pleased to report that it is still a solid thriller worth seeing, and it looks and sounds strong in hi-def.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 141 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "Behind the Danger"