|Sum of All Fears, The|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 29 October 2002|
"The Sum of All Fears" re-boots the Jack Ryan franchise with a loose adaptation of novelist Tom Clancy's 1992 espionage thriller. The story revolves around Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck, stepping into the shoes originally worn by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford), a lowly CIA analyst assigned to the Russian desk who finds himself brought into the inner circle by CIA director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) due to Ryan's research on new Russian president Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds). When a group of multi-national fascists use an Israeli nuke left over from 1973 to try to manipulate the United States and Russia into going to war against each other, it's up to Ryan to get the right information to the right people to prevent disaster.
In the post-Cold War era, espionage thrillers have become a tricky business, but by focusing on Ryan's entry into the world the character already comfortably inhabits in "The Hunt For Red October," "Clear and Present Danger" and "Patriot Games," the audience is along for the ride right along with the green and inexperienced Ryan. Affleck fares very well in his first outing as Ryan, taking the reins from Ford, who replaced Baldwin after "The Hunt For Red October." "Fears" is in many ways the most solidly entertaining Ryan thriller since "October." Director Phil Alden Robinson (who has some experience with CIA thrillers, having written and directed the delightful 1992 Robert Redford espionage outing "Sneakers") assembled an excellent supporting cast, which includes James Cromwell as President Fowler, Hinds as his Russian counterpart Nemerov, and Liev Schreiber as a reluctant CIA operative who handles most of the film's wetwork. Bridget Moynahan as love interest Dr. Cathy Muller does the best that she can with an underwritten part, but her scenes with Affleck are charming and sparkle with chemistry.
Visually, the disc fares very well. The print used for the transfer is nearly flawless, and the image retains a great deal of detail. The post-nuclear attack scenes (which were processed using a bleach-bypass technique that throws the entire film into sharp contrast and slightly desaturates the image) come across particularly crisp and clean. Overall, this is an excellent transfer, with minimal edge enhancement and consistent flesh tones and black levels. The 5.1 sound mix is excellent, particularly during the second half of the film. All the speakers are used to great effect during the action sequences, especially the destruction of a U.S. Air Force carrier and the explosion in Baltimore, which give the subwoofer a nice workout. The Jerry Goldsmith score never overpowers the dialogue, and is very effectively used, particularly in Bill Cabot's final scene.
The disc has a very healthy array of extras, including two commentary tracks and several featurettes. The commentary featuring Robinson and novelist Tom Clancy proves to be an unexpected delight, as well as enormously informative. Plus it's just damned entertaining to hear Clancy every few minutes utter, "Well, that's bullshit," and then patiently explain how the government and armed forces actually work. Robinson is game throughout, and his commentary with cinematographer John Lindley focuses more on craft than storytelling. Between the two, every aspect of the film is covered, with some overlap but not so much as to be distracting.
The featurettes include a making-of special, as well as an in-depth look at both the casting and production of the film. The final featurettes detail the visual effects sequences, and for FX junkies, are well detailed and provide coverage quite a bit beyond the usual gamut of green-screen-model features.
Overall, the disc is an excellent entry point for viewers who have never seen the three films in the series, and a great stocking stuffer for Affleck and Clancy fans alike. While certainly not the best espionage thriller ever made, it is a solidly entertaining and engrossing thriller that requires the audience to put the pieces together themselves.