Director: Phillip Noyce
Cast: Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Sean Bean, James Earl Jones, Patrick Bergin, Thora Birch, Samuel L. Jackson, J.E Freeman, James Fox, Alun Armstrong, David Threlfall and Richard Harris
Plot: While on holiday in London with his family, Jack Ryan (Ford) stops an IRA assassination attempt and finds himself in the crosshairs of some dangerous people.
My Tom Clancy knowledge is limited. I have read Sum of All Fears and Rainbow Six, so I am aware that the main crux of the books is a cross between a military thriller with a healthy slice of political intrigue. The books always hit close to home for American viewers (I did not see that ending in Sum of All Fears coming at all!) With that in mind, Patriot Games is a little Clancy-lite.
Everything is just a little under-cooked here. It doesn’t help that on the grand scheme of things, the IRA are slightly small fry when it comes to the CIA’s history. The political game doesn’t really cut across, when the Americans are chasing down a rag-tag group of extremists. While the Irish side of things means that I get to see some small-time British actors pop up (Thora Birch, David Threlfall, a little somebody called Sean Bean…), it doesn’t really hit that nail-biting Jack Bauer-esque feel that you want a Tom Clancy movie to reach. Harrison Ford is also a bad choice of lead for a Clancy movie. He does a fine job, conjuring up that image of an honest family man, who much rather be sitting behind a desk, than firing a gun. However, the problem with casting Ford in anything when he was this age is that it is impossible not to imagine Indiana Jones, Dekker or Han Solo. Ford is meant to be a little boring (he drones statistical analysis in meetings), yet irresistibly charming. Ford finds the balance, but the character stops him from going full Indy (it doesn’t help that Indy was also a teacher, so the roles tend to interchange at various points). After watching Patriot Games, I wouldn’t blame you for reaching for your ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ DVD. The movie continues to get its pacing wrong quite a bit, so while Ryan is being developed, or we are trying to shoehorn in the computer analysis side of the novel, the other characters are being wasted. James Earl Jones is surprisingly cursed with limited screen time here and Sean Bean’s vengeful terrorist is actually just a bunch of clichés stapled together to make the finale more interesting. This movie isn’t as powerful as I originally remembered.
It does work as a decent, little action thriller though. Patriot Games is best enjoyed when you strip away the Tom Clancy side of things. Forget you are watch Jack Ryan, and picture yourself picking up a Harrison Ford by-the-numbers action from a bargain bucket at the supermarket. Suddenly, it works. We have a likeable hero finding his family in danger from a rogue extremist and he is forced back to the CIA to take them out. A strangely uncomfortable battle takes place over a satellite monitor, the bad guys being silently checked off, rather than the director showing us a bloody firefight. It is gripping stuff. The final fight is a little tame, the movie spending too much time twiddling its thumbs earlier on to do it justice, but as I said, if we think of this as little more than a Friday night action movie, then it does the job well enough. In this regard, it only lets down on a couple of factors. Thora Birch and Patrick Bergin are wasted as side-baddies. The traitor subplot is, again, undercooked. Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t say the word ‘motherfucker’.
Final Verdict: Surprisingly lacking in Tom Clancy trademarks, although it makes for a handy action thriller.