A review of  The Sum of All Fears” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for violence, extremely intense action

Run Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

 

 

In light of the most recent terrorist warnings, this edgy thriller about a lost nuclear weapon resonates with timely apprehension and dread.  Could the U.S. lose a nuclear bomb?  Unfortunately, we’ve already lost several – one in 1965 after an A-4 jet plane fell off the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga, leaving a weapon lying somewhere in the murky depths of the Sea of Japan, and a pair in 1956, when a B-47 bomber carrying weapon cores over the Mediterranean Sea disappeared without a trace.  Materials to construct nuclear weapons have also been reported stolen, only to turn up unexpectedly on the nuclear black market.

With this in mind, the Big Question still remains: can Ben Affleck fill Harrison Ford’s shoes as Jack Ryan, the reluctant central intelligence hero who perpetually finds himself in the wrong place at the right time? The answer: well, sort of.  Affleck brings an effortless charm to novelist Tom Clancy’s CIA Analyst do-gooder, who (this time around) is dispatched to aid the former Soviet Union as a pseudo-liaison, ultimately uncovering an evil plot to destroy the world.

For all its complicated tangents, the core story is relatively straightforward.  A small faction of Neo-Nazis finds itself in control of a nuclear warhead, generating plans to detonate it at a large gathering of American citizens. (The fact that Clancy penned his novel well before the events of September 11 is eerily prophetic). Their goal:  to create mass hysteria and pin the blame on the Russians, thus setting off a nuclear war and wiping major nations (read: adversaries) off the face of the earth.

Ryan’s job is simple.  Keep U.S. President Fowler (James Cromwell) up to speed on the chain of unfolding events regarding the stolen weapon, while keeping the shifting lines of communication open between Fowler and his Russian counterpart, President Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds).

This is the stuff of good summer blockbusters.  Stellar lineup, concentrated action, and a truckload of tension. The supporting cast is an extraordinary mix of A-list players and character actors; an exceptional Morgan Freeman as Ryan’s boss Bill Cabot, Alan Bates, Colm Feore, and Liev Schreiber as unscrupulous CIA operative John Clark. Affleck radiates ingenuous charisma, but Freeman is the guts of the group, offering up wry humor and an appealing, serene strength. 

Action unfolds with a capital A, combining snappy spy playthings, impressive aerial work, and a de facto state of war with the Russians.  Add to this the anxiety inherent in troubling shifts in international policy, kidnapped nuclear scientists, and the horrors of chemical warfare, and you’ve got yourself a frightening state of affairs with an atmosphere of chilling authenticity.

Clancy groupies be warned.  “Sum” exists in a cinematic time warp, something akin to the reverse-order “Star Wars” series.  Affleck’s Ryan is the younger, less polished version of Ford’s CIA executive.  He’s courting his young physician wife (to whom Ford is married in previous installments “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger”) and just getting his CIA feet wet.  The fact that Ryan’s story paves the way for the 90s installments but clearly takes place in the New Millenium – well, it’s called Poetic License.