Not for honor. Not for country. For his wife and child.
Paramount remedies a grievous wrong by revisiting the big-screen adaptation of Tom Clancy's novel, this time with genuine extra content, a lovely DTS track, and a modestly improved video transfer.
Facts of the Case
Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is on a working vacation in London, England, when he stumbles across a terrorist attack upon a member of the Royal family, Lord Holmes (James Fox). In short order, Ryan kills one terrorist and wounds his brother, Sean Miller (Sean Bean). Ryan sticks around to testify against Miller, and then heads back to his Annapolis, Maryland home while Miller heads to a maximum-security British prison…but not for long!
When Miller's cohorts spring him in effective and murderous fashion, Miller begins to nurse his fierce desire for revenge. His revenge leaves Ryan's wife, Cathy Ryan (Anne Archer), wounded and his daughter, Sally (Thora Birch), at death's door. Ryan fights back in the best way he knows how, by going back to an old job with the CIA and tracking down Sean Miller and his IRA splinter group. However, as all good villains do, Miller takes matters into his own hands and comes a' calling for Ryan.
Ironically, the trailer for Patriot Games uses the line "[t]here's never been a terrorist attack on American soil," though it was removed from the theatrical release. How odd it is to hear these words, now that we have experienced the shock of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the tragedy of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and the horror of September 11, 2001. By comparison, the terrorism in Patriot Games seems almost inconsequential outside of the very real effect on the Ryan family.
Patriot Games is a very personal story of how one man confronts terrorism. Though the film was released after The Hunt for Red October, the events of Patriot Games took place earlier, when Jack Ryan was merely an unassuming professor of history, before the tide of history threw him into the heart of the Central Intelligence Agency (in Clear and Present Danger) and improbably into the Oval Office (in "Debt of Honor") and beyond. However, it is here in Patriot Games that we begin, and we do so with a compelling story and prescient lessons that are even more relevant to us in the middle of a war on terrorism than they may have seemed at the time.
When Ryan unexpectedly faces the spectre of political murder at close range, his instinctive reaction is to act, and not to seek personal safety in prevarication or simple passivity. His nemesis, Sean Miller, is not subject to negotiation or persuasion, and the breadth of the Atlantic Ocean cannot protect Ryan and his family from Miller's wrath. Ryan simply must confront evil and destroy it, pre-empting Miller's future of terror. However, Ryan acts not primarily out of duty or patriotism. At the fierce urging of his wife, he simply recognizes that his idyllic life and the safety of his family demands that he act. He cannot afford to take the risk of inaction.
This big-screen adaptation of Patriot Games is nearly, though not quite as good as Clancy's novel. Much of the differences are understandable, made necessary to edit a book into a roughly two-hour film and avoid prolonged, boring exposition. Rewriting and expanding the minor IRA mouthpiece Paddy O'Neill to take advantage of Richard Harris is a net plus, but some omissions and transformations leave the film the poorer by comparison. Totally omitting Sergeant Major Breckenridge is a regrettable loss, as he is a small but bluntly refreshing character, always ready with a veteran Marine's praise, criticism, and wisdom to guide the practical education of John Ryan.
Even more wounding is the dramatic change in the climactic battle between the terrorists and good guys. The filmed Patriot Games omits the more complicated but far more tense and powerful ending chase of the book for a nearly anti-climactic, less interesting, but simpler ending. The overall film is still a reasonable adaptation of the book, but a closer attention to the source material would have benefited the film (though perhaps not its length!).
Harrison Ford (Star Wars, Blade Runner, Presumed Innocent) is certainly a switch from Alec Baldwin, the previous Jack Ryan actor. While the added age complicated the writers' lives, Ford brings a ready-made boy scout/reluctant warrior manner that dovetails neatly with the role. Ryan has since been subjected to a youth movement (to Ben Affleck in Sum of All Fears), but if the Paramount powers that be ever want to film the later Jack Ryan/Tom Clancy novels, then Ford (even years older) is perfectly suited to that role. After all, he's already had Presidential practice in Air Force One!
Supporting Harrison Ford is cast well stocked with talent. Just check out this list of names!
With only a few lines of dialogue but an immense screen presence, James Earl Jones (Conan the Barbarian, Matewan, Sneakers) continues the fatherly, slightly mysterious role he started in Hunt for Red October and completed in Clear and Present Danger. With as little screen time, Richard Harris (Unforgiven, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) makes the most of it as a smarmy IRA bagman. Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction, Body of Evidence) has the "thankless task" (in the words of director Philip Noyce) of a reactive, supportive role, but to her credit creates a genuine chemistry with Harrison Ford that doubtless was a great assist to him. Sean Bean (Goldeneye, Ronin, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) burns brightly as a lizard-like raging terrorist, barely held in check by tart-tongued Patrick Bergin (Sleeping With the Enemy).
But wait! There's more! James Fox (A Passage to India, Sexy Beast) is a pitch-perfect aristocrat, and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Die Hard 3, The Negotiator) flexes his fledgling action-hero wings. Don't forget Thora Birch (American Beauty, Ghost World), who pulled off one of the toughest assignments in Hollywood: being realistic and non-annoying as a child actor.
Aside from finally giving Patriot Games the anamorphic transfer that it deserves, the video is a modest improvement over the first release. At least one problematic scene, specifically the overly gritty Cathy and Sally Ryan crash scene, still reflects the original difficulties, but the problem seems less obvious. Happily, the opening credits no longer shimmer and the sharpness has been boosted. As before, the colors are vivid and well saturated. Digital artifacting is present in only a limited fashion.
The soundtrack seems to have benefited from the re-release, especially with the welcome addition of a DTS track. Effects are precisely located and smoothly pan across the main channels, with commendable support from the rear surrounds and a moderate subwoofer punch. Add in the haunting, melancholy Irish melodies (thanks to Clannad) and moving James Horner soundtrack (borrowing in part from his Aliens work), and you have an excellent sonic treat.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Since I previously harshly criticized Paramount for only including a trailer on the first release, it may seem the height of ingratitude to again lament the state of the extra content. The 25 minute featurette "Patriot Games: Close Up" is interviews of the major cast and crew, covering the basics of creation, production, and filming. While I welcome the addition, is this and the theatrical trailer really what Paramount means by a "Special Collector's Edition?" This may meet their definition, but more discerning members of the purchasing public will scoff using that label for this disc.
Paramount has a curious way to list the audio track information on the back of the box. Under the heading "Dolby Digital," the first two listings are "English 5.1 Surround" and "English DTS Surround Sound." This makes it seem like DTS is a type of Dolby Digital sound, a fact that the folks at DTS just might dispute.
Finally, Paramount includes legal warnings and ratings information before the main menu and just prior to playing the film. This is to be expected, but when Paramount makes these annoyances mandatory (i.e. non-skipable and non-fast forward-able), my blood pressure spikes. If I have to sit through another explanation of how INTERPOL wags its finger at piracy (Oh no! Ethel, get my pills! INTERPOL's coming to get me!), I'm going to spontaneously combust.
Finally, yes, I have changed my scoring of the acting and story components of Patriot Games. Reviewer's prerogative!
If you resisted the first release, then go ahead and buy this release of Patriot Games ($20 list). Action and drama, though never overly graphic or laden with gratuitous sexual content, makes this an intelligent thriller that a family can enjoy. However, if you have the first release on your shelf, this double-dip is a closer call. On balance, the improvements in the video and especially the audio weigh in favor of a re-purchase, but only if you are a confirmed fan who is likely to enjoy multiple viewings (as I do!).
The court again finds Patriot Games an excellent film, worthy of its acquittal. Though Paramount did not deliver the supercharged special edition I had hoped for, the court appreciates the improvements in this release. Keep working at it, Paramount!
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Scales of Justice
• "Patriot Games: Close Up" Featurette
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