The Sum of All Fears
- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jan
This weekend, the new Tom Clancy thriller
When stories about this film reached the entertainment press last fall, many voiced doubts regarding Affleck's ability to meet the standard set by Baldwin and Ford in the earlier episodes. But there were more urgent and troubling questions. Many were dismayed that a studio would go forward with a film about such large-scale terrorist violence while audiences are still tending the wounds of September 11. Some critics declared that the days of glorified big-screen terrorism were over—a fact quickly discredited as films like
Let me know what you think. Is this a subject that can be meaningfully addressed by a major motion picture? What will distinguish a good film about nuclear holocaust from a bad one? And if you see the movie, I would welcome your thoughts on it. Is it capitalizing on recent waves of patriotism, or exploiting the headlines? Or is it leading us to a deeper understanding of the world we live in?from Film Forum, 06/06/02
In 1991, an experienced and professional CIA analyst named Jack Ryan brought bad guys to justice after the detonation of a nuclear device on American soil. That is how the story goes in Tom Clancy's bestselling novel
Jack Ryan has tracked down terrorists and tried to prevent nuclear disaster several times before. You've probably seen previous adaptations:
But so much has changed in the world's political climate since 1991 that the story has changed in other ways as well. The villains of the novel were three terrorists: a German leftist, an anti-Zionist Arab, and a Native American political activist. Today, it would be politically incorrect to even suggest that such characters would carry out such atrocities. And America is trying to balance anti-extremist action in the Middle East with careful reaffirmation of respect and support for Arabs in America. Thus, the villains of this movie are—you guessed it—Neo-Nazis. Too bad Harrison Ford didn't sign on; we would have had ourselves an Indiana Jones movie in disguise.
As the story goes, these Neo-Nazis want to bait the U.S. and Russia into all-out nuclear smackdown, while they prepare to seize control in the aftermath. So Baltimore becomes the target of a nuclear attack, and all clues point to the Russians. More specifically, they're going to bomb the Super Bowl.
There has been much skepticism about Paramount's decision to release the film so soon after September 11. Religious press critics and mainstream reviewers as well are offering some limited praise, but I haven't seen any reviews that avoided the awkwardness of watching a movie that actually portrays the world's imminent nightmare.
Marie Asner (The Phantom Tollbooth) says, "There are certainly flaws in this script. A lost bomb and no one was looking for it for almost 30 years? Despite a horrible tragedy, the phones still work. People in danger of assassination never check under cars before starting them. Some of the special effects look cheesy, especially the Stealth planes." But she suggests that the plot "will bring audiences past September 11 and into the next phase of 'What If?'"
Phil Boatwright (The Movie Reporter) writes, "Eerily prescient in the current political climate, the film is a frightening depiction of a growing fear. The story is convoluted, and its star still needs a bit more seasoning, but in the light of 9/11, it's both fascinating and frightening to watch."
Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "I enjoyed every minute of this exciting story and applaud the approach … Robinson took with Clancy's thriller. I believe that this kind of movie serves a social purpose in reminding us all of how precarious the global climate is at the moment and how precious the gift of freedom and peace truly is."
But at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a critic argues, "A year ago the film might have described as a sleekly made thriller, which it is, but the devastation of Sept. 11 has given it an extra layer of horror. A story that once might have seemed far-fetched can now ratchet up fear and dread in an already nervous public. It's certainly not a movie for those still emotionally fragile from having lost anyone in the terrorist attack, and it still may be too soon for many others. In fact, given the disastrous turn of events the movie takes, one can find fault with presenting a film in which thousands are killed as an exciting thriller." The critic concludes that the film's "romanticized ending tends to trivialize the movie's tragedy in disturbing ways."
Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) is more troubled by the bad behavior of the film's heroes than he is by the questions of timing: "This violent drama shows men being strangled, shot, blown up, and crushed by a rolled helicopter. About half of its 30 profanities are blasphemous. Also, previous Clancy tales have benefited from tender moments involving Ryan's family. Not here. In this prequel, the bachelor is introduced waking up beside his girlfriend after their third date. What's really scary is the thought of a U.S. president with his finger on 'the button' who is quick to invoke the Lord's name as profanity, yet seeks no divine guidance amid crisis. God forbid." Similarly, Paul Bicking (Preview) rejects the film for "graphic violence and obscene dialogue."
Annabelle Robertson (Movieguide) says, "Because it portrays events that could realistically occur, especially with current threats of terrorist attacks …
Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) says, "For all the good writing, a central narrative problem remains. It concerns the detonation of a nuclear device … the effects of this disaster seem awfully tangential and superficial. It may be that Americans can still deal with terrorism onscreen, but treating it in pre-September 11 ways won't wash in a post-September 11 world." Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight) agrees: "The obvious loss of life is extremely underplayed." He concludes, "Overall it just wasn't that impressive. But neither was the novel."
Those who are ready to protest Hollywood's exploitation of the recent headlines should first note that the film was in production long before the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. On September 14, the World Entertainment News Network reported that
Commenting on this, David Denby (The New Yorker) writes, "It's not the fault of the filmmakers … that actual events have overtaken the portentous clichés. But it very well might be the filmmakers' fault that, as an evocation of danger, the movie seems threatening yet is nowhere near serious or intelligent enough to satisfy our current sense of alarm. Robinson, trying to generate entertainment, treats a nuclear attack on the East Coast as if it were just another disaster, with little of the unique horror that such an event would unleash."
Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) is not cheered by the happy ending: "My own fear is that in the post-apocalyptic future,
Joe Morgenstern of