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Like Patriot Games and The Hunt for Red October before it, Clear and Present Danger takes liberties with its source material. Whether this is good or not will be left to Clancy-o-prices to mull over. With all the hype attendant to it, however, this particular Jack Ryan adventure is somewhat disappointing. Beneath its posturing as a techno-thriller, Clear and Present Danger is really little more than a high-class blast-and-bang festival. Its Sniper with more plot, a better cast, and an hour of extra running time. Clear and Present Danger is all plot and no characters.
The people running around on screen have about as much depth as the sheen of sweat on Harrison Fords forehead. Jack Ryan is the most disappointing of all. Hes disgustingly virtuous: a flawless fighter for good and justice, a Superman without the cape. I spent half the movie wondering if this guy was ever going to show anything to mark him as vaguely human. The plot is exceptionally, and often needlessly, convoluted.
This comes as a result of attempting to retain some of the flavor of a long, complex novel. More attention is demanded of the audience than is probably necessary for this sort of movie. A little lapse of vigilance is all thats necessary to lose your way, yet the ultimate payoff doesnt seem worth it for those who manage to navigate the films labyrinthine twists. A massacre on board a boat in the South Caribbean starts in motion the wheels of vengeance in Washington. One of the victims claims a friendship with the President of the United States as well as connections to the South American Cali drug cartel, from whom he stole more than $ 600 million. So, under the command of the battle-hardened Clark (Willem Dafoe), an elite team of soldiers is sent into Columbia to assassinate the drug lord responsible for the shipboard slaughter.
Meanwhile, Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones), the Deputy Director of the CIA, is diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Unable to continue his job, he asks Jack Ryan (Ford) to take over for him. Ryan does so, only to end up in the middle of a high-level coverup. From Washington to Columbia and back again, Ryan attempts to disinter the truth while certain nervous factions of the government seek to have him killed, or, failing that, set up as a fall guy.
Some of the technical elements of Clear and Present Danger are fascinating (principally because the movie actually gets a lot of this stuff right), and there are several well-executed action scenes (even if Harrison Ford is getting a little old to be getting involved in so many fist fights). Theres also a moment of cinematic flare where the proceedings of a normal funeral are intercut with those of a very untraditional and bloody one. As can be seen in Clear and Present Danger, theres only so much a performer can do with a sketchily-written role. With parts of minimal importance and limited visibility, Anne Archer and James Earl Jones are vastly underused. Harrison Ford, the man with top billing, is steady (as usual), but unexceptional. There will be no best acting nominations from this film.
Clear and Present Danger boasts excellent sound too bad the pedestrian visuals arent of equal quality. In a time when good special effects are the standard, the viewer has a right to expect more from a picture of this magnitude than a cheesy-looking smart missile. At least theres more complexity evident here than in The Pelican Brief, the straightforward John Grisham thriller that dealt less effectively with high-up Washington corruption. Nevertheless, whether because of or in spite of Clear and Present Dangers involved plot, too many corners are cut. The uneven flow is as likely to lead to a snoozing viewer as to one on the edge of their seat. Clear and Present Danger is enjoyable, but its a shallow enjoyment that doesnt leave me hungering for Paramount Pictures next Clancy adaptation.
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