The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Bridget Moynahan, Ciarán Hinds, the Library Cop from Seinfeld, and Colm Feore
Grade: B-

If you want to understand the basis of The Sum of All Fears without going through the overly complicated details, it comes down to the questioned posed by Jack Ryan himself:

“The question is what is a South African doing in the Ukraine with three Russian scientists with a crate from Israel”.


We open with a caption stating, “In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel. By Day Two, Israeli ground forces appeared on the verge of defeat. In the event that their ground forces were overrun, an Israeli A-4 jet took off on patrol with one nuclear bomb”. Next, we see this bomber plane seemingly heading towards the Yom Kippur War, but it’s shot down. The nuke is displaced in some random spot in the desert.

In Mt. Weather, Virginia, USA, 29 years later, President Fowler (Cromwell) is being rushed into an underground bunker with his advisors as they tell him about an impending nuclear attack from Russia and how they’re moving through Germany. They’ll have to deal with the Berlin Brigade, but the Germans will be outnumbered. He turns the corner in this tunnel-like building, with CIA Director William Cabot (Freeman) joining them, and they’re all told about another missile launch from Aleysk, Central Russia. Cabot starts to point out the obvious targets being New York, Washington, and the area they’re in. He also reassures that they will be safe in this compound unless they are hit directly. Next, they are told there have been multiple launches and the first will strike in 25 minutes. President Fowler wonders about the accuracy of this, but Defense Secretary Becker (Phillip Baker Hall) confirms it. With more pouring into the conference room, National Security Advisor Gene Revell (Bruce McGill) suggests they go DEFCON 1. Fowler asks for President Zorkin (Richard Marner) to be contacted, but he can’t be reached because there have been reports of a coup in Moscow. General Bulgakov is in charge now. This is the same Bulgakov who wanted to use nukes in Chechnya. As they all sit in their conference room, Fowler looks over to Becker and he gives him the nod, so Fowler agrees to go into DEFCON 1 once Revell asks again. Then, a general tells Fowler that it will take a minute for the launch sequence to process after he gives the order. Before the order, an I.D. check must be performed. Once he gives his I.D. and takes an incoming phone call from his wife, the general tells them that under the two-man rule, the order must be confirmed by someone on the approved list. Revell confirms it. Following this, Fowler hangs up the phone and starts to laugh, asking if they can finish this some other time.

Apparently, this was all just a drill.

They all share a laugh and agree. As they walk out together, Fowler tells Cabot that when they do another drill, they should change things up because he doesn’t want to be in some underground bunker in this situation, comparing it to a tomb. Cabot thinks Russia shouldn’t be the target either in this hypothetical, despite their nuclear arsenal. Making a detour in the conversation, Cabot talks about how they have to send some people to Russia soon to inspect Arzas, their nuclear decommissioning facility. Fowler thinks someone from Cabot’s staff should be on the trip, but Cabot says he’ll go himself. They discuss the sickly President Zorkin as well and how they shouldn’t underestimate him, with Cabot mentioning how Zorkin has scheduled a press conference. At CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA, the staff of analysts watch Zorkin’s press conference where he angrily declares Chechnya as part of Russia and how criminals and their “friends in the West” seem to be the only people who disagree. CIA Analyst Jack Ryan (Affleck) and his co-workers argue over certain details of the press conference like which advisors are with him and if Zorkin is drinking again. Fellow analyst Dillon (Jamie Harrold) says Chelinski is with Zorkin and he was at the Geneva Summit, but Jack insists Cherpitski was the one who was at Geneva, not Chelinski. There also seems to be confusion on who is banging Elena Rishkov. In Vienna, Austria, Austrian billionaire Richard Dressler (Alan Bates) speaks at some conference of sorts and asks what they should make of Chechnya asking the West for protection. As he goes on his rant about a potential war between the United States and Russia, we see a swastika inscribed on the inside of his watch.

In the desert in the Golan Heights, two people find the nuke that fell from the plane in the opening of the film. After they pull it out of the hole it’s in with a crane, they accidentally drop it. Convinced it’s a bomb, the younger guy doesn’t think they can sell it, but the older guy is. Back in Russia, Zorkin complains privately in his home that he’s completely healthy and he’s tired of the questions regarding his health. Almost immediately after saying this, he drops dead. Back in the U.S. in the early morning, Jack is in bed and is woke up by his unofficial girlfriend Dr. Cathy Muller’s (Moynahan) pager going off. After they discuss Jack falling in love with her, him not denying it, and they start to make out a little, Cathy ends up calling the number. It turns out it was actually Jack’s pager, and he has a work emergency. Cathy starts to question how bad this emergency is because Jack is technically just a historian. At work, Jack is quickly debriefed in the hallway that Zorkin died, and Alexander Nemerov (Hinds) has been sworn in as President. Nemerov is someone Jack wrote a paper on, and he predicted this same scenario a year ago. Nobody read the paper before, but they’re reading it now, which is why it was Cabot’s idea to bring Jack in. Just then, they run into Cabot, who immediately notes Jack’s lack of a tie. Because of the lack of time, Cabot takes Jack to the Intelligence Committee privately. On the way there, he tells Jack he is to provide analysis and advice, to be completely certain of what he’s talking about before he says anything, and to choose his words carefully. Above all else, he tells him not to be afraid in saying that he doesn’t know something. Then, he stops in the office they’re in and forces some random guy to give up his suit jacket and tie for Jack to wear.

The two go to a different type of Intelligence Committee meeting that is highly secure and unknown to the public compared to the stuff Jack has seen on C-SPAN. There, Cabot presents what he knows to the Committee and says that Nemerov does not owe his ascension to the military according to their source from inside the Kremlin. Following some back-and-forth, the Chairman on the committee asks if Nemerov is a “hard-liner”. Jack tries to lean in and whisper “No”, but he’s pulled back from the others behind Cabot. Cabot just says it’s too early to tell. When the Chairman counters with CNN reporting that Nemerov has plans to rebuild the Russian Empire, Jack laughs to himself. Jack leans in again and whispers to Cabot that Nemerov is just saying this to get the actual hard-liners off his back. If they push him though, all bets are off. Cabot whispers back that he didn’t ask for Jack to actually speak, so an embarrassed Jack leans back into his chair. Nevertheless, Cabot tells the committee that some of their assets in the Russian government who actually know Nemerov have not had the chance to report anything, so they need to wait before they assume things about the man. Following the meeting, Jack apologizes for being out of line, though he maintains he’s right about Nemerov. Cabot asks if Cathy enjoys his stubbornness, which Jack is startled by because he didn’t realize Cabot knew about her. Then, Cabot lists things about her like how she’s a second-year surgical resident at the Baltimore Memorial Hospital. When he says she’s Jack’s “girlfriend”, he denies this and says they aren’t official yet. In fact, he puts it on her and says she is the one who can’t commit.

Next, we cut to the Baltimore Memorial Hospital where Cathy is saying the same thing about Jack. This is where Cathy discusses details with her co-worker Rita (Pragna Desai) about how Jack used to be in the Marines until he hurt his back and how he’s a historian now. Though Rita isn’t too impressed, Cathy can’t wait to show him off at their double date.

Across the world, South African black market arms trafficker Olson (Feore) is brought the bomb. After he asks certain details about if there was a destroyed plane nearby because of the fighting in the area there in 1973, he realizes this is a live nuke that he can sell, but the guys that found it don’t know. Seeing this, he tells them it’s worthless, but he will buy it for $400 because of the guy’s sob story of losing his son. In Damascus, Syria, Olson sends out an email to Dressler of the bomb he found. It’s an Israeli-made, mark 12-type fission bomb, and he’s requesting $50,000,000. From a private jet with Cabot and all of the other intelligence officers, Jack calls Cathy to tell her he can’t make it for dinner at the same time she’s getting ready. She asks where he’s going, but he tells her he can’t say. Cabot interrupts and has Jack tell her the truth. Surprised, Jack tells Cathy that he works for the CIA and the director asked him to come along to do a nuclear arms inspection. She gets pissed off and hangs up, as Cabot laughs. In Russia, Jack, Cabot, and a few of others show up to meet Nemerov. Nemerov greets them, but he knows of Jack. He has his translator relay the message that he is aware Jack has done research on him and how Jack was wrong about his reporting of Nemerov having many girlfriends in college. He insists he met his wife in his third year and never looked at another woman since, with Jack replying that he was referring to the first two years. As everyone’s smiles turn to frowns because of Jack correcting him, Jack says that Nemerov received high honors in English. Also, he says this line in Russian, so Nemerov says he likes Jack in English, easing the tension. As a result, Cabot loosens up as well.

Nemerov tells Cabot he has a message to send Fowler. While taking publicity photos, he says Chechnya is an internal affair and not an American concern. When Nemerov mentions there are those in his country that will try to weaken him with this issue, Cabot counters by saying people in America are calling his war in Chechnya his weakness. Even so, he insists it’s not their concern. Cabot talks about how stability and peace is their concern and so is Nemerov’s control over his military. This pisses off Nemerov, and he leaves after getting in Cabot’s face. Jack asks Cabot who the guy with Nemerov was, and it’s old KGB agent Anatoli Grushkov (Michael Byrne). He’s been “lurking around since Brezhnev, plays all sides, and nobody’s had the guts to get rid of him”. Jack wonders if it’s because he knows where the “bodies are buried”, but Cabot says Grushkov probably buried them himself. They head to Arzamas, and Jack is handed a copy of the scientists that are on the roster of the facility. While there, they are given a tour of the place, which is the all-Russian scientific research institute of experimental physics and is the birthplace of their first atomic bomb. During the tour, Jack points out to the lead guy giving the tour that there are 17 senior scientists on duty that day, but he only counts 14. Milinov, Orlov, and Spassky are not there. The lead guy says he will make inquiries, but Grushkov interrupts and says Milinov is out sick, Orlov is on vacation, and Spassky was killed driving his car to work this past week. The tour moves on, but Jack has no problem making a slight dig at Grushkov by saying that it’s like he had the information memorized. Grushkov insists he knew Jack would ask.

In Haifa, Israel, Olson is at a shipyard and sees his bomb in a crate being moved onto a ship, safe and sound. Back on the plane, Jack gets a fax of information in which he relays back to Cabot. Milinov’s expertise was detonators, Spassky’s was the “package” (the nuclear core itself), and Orlov was a mathematician with an expertise in the geometry of high explosives inside a fission bomb. Basically, the missing scientists are the exact three men you would need if you wanted to build a bomb. Not surprised, Cabot calls Grushkov a liar and tells Jack that Milinov isn’t sick, Orlov hasn’t taken a vacation in years, and Spassky couldn’t have died in a car accident because he doesn’t drive. Grushkov and those guys have no idea where those scientists are at. Cabot got this information directly from his source in the Kremlin, codenamed: Spinnaker. Cabot has a good relationship with “Spinnaker”, and they have shared information with each other for quite some time to stave off disaster. Cabot asks if Jack has talked to Cathy yet, but he hasn’t. To fix things, he wants Jack to invite her to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Sunday night. Once the plane lands, Jack goes to his car and Cabot meets with John Clark (Schreiber). Cabot gives Clark the mission of finding out where the three scientists are, though he doesn’t seem too excited because he seemed to be finally getting used to his desk job. Either way, his official orders are on the plane they just got off of, so Clark will be headed to Russia. Then, Cabot goes over to Jack before he leaves and says his tickets to the White House Correspondents Dinner will be under the name of John Clark.

At the Correspondents Dinner, everything seems to be going well. Fowler is killing his speech, and Jack and Cathy are back to normal. At some point though, almost every important official in the room’s pager goes off at the same time. This includes Jack, Cabot, and Fowler. In a private emergency meeting, the officials are told the Russians launched a massive artillery strike in Grozny, Chechnya. The shells contained an experimental chemical weapon known as the “Novichok Binary Nerve Agent”. The saturation took 20 minutes. Everyone within the 12-mile radius of the bomb got severely fucked and will get something similar to a late-stage form of cerebral palsy. Basically, Nemerov just launched the most massive attack in the history of chemical warfare. Fowler asks for the strongest response they can make besides “gassing” the Kremlin directly. They can’t send in peacekeepers because Chechnya isn’t a sovereign nation, but the one official says they just recognize them as such to get them help. They can send in the peacekeepers through Turkey because Armenians won’t complain if the goal is to screw Russia somehow. Fowler is down, but Cabot interrupts and asks Jack what he thinks in front of everyone. So, Jack says Nemerov is anything but the hard-liner they assume he is, though Becker tells him he’s wrong because of the gassing of Grozny. They try to ignore Jack after this, but he cuts in again and wonders of the possibility Nemerov didn’t even order the attack. It could be a rogue general or a splinter military unit frustrated they couldn’t get the rest of the rebels out of the city. Fowler asks if he has any reason to believe this or if he’s just floating the idea out there. Cabot whispers to him to say, “I don’t know”, but Jack ignores Cabot, telling Fowler he truly doesn’t think Nemerov did it. Fowler closes the meeting but keeps his senior staff for a further discussion, forcing Jack and everyone else to exit the room.

Jack goes into a lobby area, and there is a television playing Nemerov’s public address, so he listens. From Nemerov’s mouth directly, he says the bombing of Chechnya was his decision. Back in Russia, Nemerov talks with Grushov privately in an elevator and asks him who actually did the bombing. Apparently, it was a couple of old and unhappy Communists General Pildysh and General Mitkin. Immediately, Nemerov tells Grushkov to fire them. He says he’ll shoot them himself, but Nemerov just wants them to disappear because an execution would basically tell the world that he didn’t have control of his own country.

“These days, better to appear guilty than impotent”.

It goes deeper than that though, as Dressler is still the main contributor to the chaos and is the one who bought the nuke. He has also assembled a team of very powerful men behind this goal, with him being the spearhead. Dressler even put in a little extra money to an American man named Mason’s (Joel Bissonnette) account because he won’t live to see it. After refusing some higher-up French official Monceau’s suggestion to change up their plan and having him killed, we cut to Baltimore, Maryland. Mason goes to work and is bothered by a co-worker who asks about his tattoo. When he says it’s from the Navy, the guy uses this to bring up how he was in the Navy too. However, he leaves once he realizes Mason has no interest in talking. Mason checks his email, and there is a message saying, “The day has arrived. Thank you”. Back in Russia, Nemerov sees Fowler’s address and how NATO is stepping in as peacekeepers in Chechnya, providing humanitarian relief. Even so, he gets into bed with his wife, saying he expected this, but he isn’t going to do anything about it. Back at CIA Headquarters, Jack and his co-workers discuss why Nemerov hasn’t moved any of his tanks, despite the sheer amount of them. Jack says Nemerov is going to keep the tanks there because the “NATO playbook says the only way we can stop him is using tactical nuclear weapons”. One guy isn’t buying that he doesn’t want to risk a nuclear over this. Regardless, Jack thinks Nemerov is sending a message. Again, he still wholeheartedly believes Nemerov didn’t bomb Grozny. At Arzamas-16, Russia, John Clark shows up at this hospital to see the mother of the scientist Spassky. Lying his ass off, he tells her he hasn’t seen Spassky since university, where he was his teaching assistant.

She’s unsure because she doesn’t remember Clark being mentioned, but he quickly responds by saying Spassky heard he was in the area and asked him to look in on her. She says Spassky has told her about taking her to the West and how he works a very secret job for certain wealthy people, though it’s not with the government. They wouldn’t allow Spassky to call her, but he called the night before anyway. Back at CIA Headquarters, they get all the information from Clark like Spassky’s mother’s number. This allows them to trace the call to an abandoned soviet army base outside of Cherkassy on the Kremenchug Reservoir. Looking over the information with Jack, Cabot wonders aloud what these three scientists are doing in the Ukraine. Jack still isn’t sure about the need to build a secret bomb since Nemerov already has thousands in his arsenal. Cabot is sure it’s deniability. If he builds one no one knows about, he could drive it to Chechnya in the trunk of his Beemer. There would be no way to track it or trace it. He could say he had nothing to do with it. Even so, Jack still doesn’t agree. Outside of this base in the Ukraine, John Clark discreetly takes pictures of Olson talking with Spassky. In their conversation, he repeatedly asks Spassky if they have a bomb or not, and he confirms it. Back at Jack’s place, he’s making out with Cathy, but they are interrupted by a phone call. Jack has to go outside to meet Cabot in a parked car across the street. There, Cabot talks about how he’s reviewed Jack’s military record and how he can take care of himself, but Jack insists he’s not trained for that sort of thing. Cabot says he’s not asking him to be an operations officer. He just wants Jack to be his eyes and ears on this new mission. Plus, Cabot can’t go himself.

When Jack asks if the mission is even sanctioned, Cabot stares at him and ignores the question. Then, he gives Jack a chip to bring to Clark to see what he finds out and to bring it home. Before Jack departs to the Ukraine to delve deeper into this mess and to help out Clark, Cabot makes it a point to say they never had this conversation. Now, it’s up to Jack Ryan to hopefully stop World War III, but the odds are stacked against him since he’s the only one who thinks Nemerov is innocent and there’s a rogue third party pulling the strings that America nor Russia knows about. Jack may be right about Nemerov, but it could be too late to prevent the damage on the horizon.

My Thoughts:

The second reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise was an underrated one. With Ben Affleck taking over the respected role of our special CIA analyst and Morgan Freeman being a perfect stand-in for the mentor James Earl Jones’s James Greer was for Harrison Ford’s hero, all the pieces were there to turn this into another series of sequels honoring Tom Clancy’s beloved protagonist. It’s not the best all-around movie in the Jack Ryan franchise (it’s fighting Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit for third), but there’s one thing that The Sum of All Fears has over everyone else. Of all the cinematic missions we’ve seen Jack face, the one presented here is the biggest one. Clear and Present Danger was the most difficult one from an analyst perspective and The Hunt for Red October could have been the biggest if Jack was wrong about his analyzation of the situation, but the one in The Sum of All Fears is for sure an apocalyptic one that needed Jack Ryan’s presence to save the country and potentially the world. The planet is at risk. There’s no ruse here like in the first movie. The threat of nuclear war with Russia is very real, and the real culprits behind the scenes have covered almost every aspect of their tracks. Admittedly, our protagonist is more of an analyst this time around comparable to Alec Baldwin’s take on the character rather than the much more popular, grizzled, part-time action hero Ford’s Jack was, but Affleck does have his moments where we see the potential. When the fate of the world is on the line, Affleck’s Jack shines and makes us believe in the gravity of the situation. In future sequels, there’s no doubt he would have gotten better in the role from both the desk and field portions that the character excels at equally. Sadly, despite the big numbers brought in at the box office, The Sum of All Fears became a one-off and was rebooted years later with Chris Pine taking over the role.

Regardless, this world-ending thriller is yet another well-made addition to the acclaimed action movies coming out of the Ryanverse. There may be some elements in the film sprinkled throughout that aren’t fully realized, but you will be entertained. This is a guarantee.

Above all else, The Sum of All Fears stands out with its dedication to the unflinching realism in a potential doomsday scenario like this. This is where the movie succeeds the most. The excitement is very real. It’s one of the very few movies that captures the feeling so many of those in power would have in a potential apocalyptic situation. The earth-shattering bomb sequence leaves the viewer in shock, complete with an isolated feeling stemming from the bluish tint and energy-changing cinematography in the aftermath. For a moment, you just hear the soldiers and the whispers of the wind. There’s no music, just the sounds of silence and confusion from the principal characters narrowly avoiding certain death, and the trauma coming from it is visceral in the moment. As Jack sees the mushroom cloud in the distance, the viewer wakes up to the unpredictability of the film, showing that this is a different Jack Ryan movie that is much more vulnerable and susceptible to disaster than any other previous entry in the series. It’s an insane and ballsy move post-September 11th, but I commend the people behind this movie for seeing their vision through with absolute fearlessness. It’s a bold move, but it was necessary to prove to the audience that there is a serious possibility that we can lose. Sure, it’s a hit to the all-American ego, but it was refreshing, especially for this time period. For the first time in a while, our heroic protagonist and the United States aren’t 100% successful in preventing a catastrophe, as there are countless lives lost in the crosshairs of trying to avoid a nuclear war with Russia. The novelty of this sets The Sum of All Fears apart from everyone because of this alone, and that immediate sequence after the bomb makes what could be a regular action movie completely different because of it.

Following this, the political sections of the movie are just as exciting as Jack Ryan racing to solve the issue from the outside as he moves through the wasteland of Baltimore. It starts with U.S. President Fowler, played very well by 6’7” James Cromwell who carries himself like a president of the United States, trying to process what has happened while trying to figure out what the appropriate action is and coming to the realization that not only will it be the defining moment of his legacy as a president but could determine the fate of every life in the country (and potentially the world). Only adding to the stress levels are his cabinet members filled with a litany of impressive character actors who all exemplify exactly how a team of presidential advisors would act in a doomsday scenario, intensifying the drama tenfold. There are those who want to strike immediately before the Russians do, the others who want to avoid war at all costs, and the others who agree they need to do something to look like a force not to be messed with but also oppose sending nukes. On the other hand, there’s Russian President Nemerov who is a reasonable man, though he acts like a hard-liner publicly for the sake of his country and its strongest supporters. Unfortunately, no one in the U.S. government knows who he is except for Jack Ryan. They all assume he is the hard-liner he portrays himself to be, hellbent on starting a war and proving Russia’s strength as a country to the rest of the world. It’s hard not to think he’s a madman from his public persona because Fowler’s advisors are only aware of what is known publicly, the attack on Chechnya and Baltimore. Even with Nemerov denying things, they don’t believe him.

After the Baltimore attack and Jack calls in with a plan and actual information that could deter future action towards Russia, the fucking Library Cop from Seinfeld cuts him off, calls him a “Nemerov apologist”, and hangs up because all of the government officials are fully convinced Nemerov is behind everything.

In a classic example of “Who has the biggest cock”, Fowler and Nemerov dare each other to make the next move as they begin their path to nuclear war, simply because neither leader wants to look like a pussy. They have to prepare for the worst, with Nemerov openly talking with his advisors about a potential attack on Colorado Springs. Again, he doesn’t want to (even asking how many lives would be lost if they proceeded), as they are all aware of the fact that once you open the nuclear threshold with the United States, there’s no turning back. Even so, they have to have a plan in case someone strikes.

It’s pretty crazy to see how far things go between them, but you have to take into account how realistic the reactions between all of them are. The egos of the two leaders and their advisors clashing would surely find its place in a real-life scenario, and the discussions of fear and regret between everyone involved because they also have hearts and don’t want to be looked at in the history books as the key figures implicated in starting a global war hooks you. Again, it’s The Sum of All Fears‘s dedication to unflinching realism. Everyone is arguing on both sides on what to do, and we are on the edge of our seat watching it because we know every decision is one step closer to more casualties. In addition, no one knows the right answer either. No one on either side has ever been in a scenario like this. As a result, there isn’t the expected cliché character who gives the right advice on what they need to do. Nobody knows. It’s just a cataclysmic game of chicken, and they’re all hoping for the best. Everyone is arguing and at each other’s throats over certain suggestions and implications and though the viewer is attached to the sympathetic advisor that doesn’t want to bomb Russia, you can’t help but see it from all of the other’s perspectives. In this moment, you put yourself in the driver’s seat and think, “What would I do?”. This is where you come to the realization that though you never want to be the president that starts a war, they have to do something. If America looks weak and afraid and they are right about Russia, another attack is imminent and losing becomes a real possibility.

It all comes down to Jack Ryan asking a country to back down. Can you imagine having to ask someone this question when there is no confirmation the other country will? This is what these leaders are faced with, and it’s riveting.

Do you want to be the president taking the “L”? It’s like what Nemerov said, “These days, better to appear guilty than impotent”. In this situation given to us in The Sum of All Fears, you are given the ultimate test: If you knew Russia was behind an attack on U.S. soil and was potentially preparing to do more damage, would you still try and talk your way out of it, risk everything, and look weak in the process by losing a war? Or do you give it right back to them? This is the dilemma.

The unsureness of Fowler and his advisors are very much a representation of us in this scenario, as is Nemerov, who’s in a room full of hard-liners. They’re all yelling at each other and freaking the hell out because they know the gravity of the situation and are afraid of how unprepared they are like when Fowler gets on Air Force One right after the explosion. Fowler yells at his advisor what he does know compared to what he doesn’t, and the guy finally flips out before they get on the plane, “I DON’T KNOW! I DON’T KNOW!”, forcing Fowler to backtrack and calm down himself because they’re all at the same level of frustration and shock. Following this, there’s another great scene in the plane with everyone arguing over details, but the conclusion of it is fumbled, with Fowler interrupting everyone to say “This is too much goddam bullshit! Not enough fact”. The line didn’t hit like it should’ve considering the circumstances. A simple, “Will you guys shut the hell up? I’m trying to think!” would have done the trick with the right delivery. Plus, it’s much cleaner and more natural. Nonetheless, it’s this very real emotion and heightened sensitivity from everyone in these scenes that takes the film to another level of drama that other Jack Ryan movies don’t reach. Once Fowler gives the order for snapcount, and they go through the process of getting the nuclear codes, the action and drama surrounding the situation and Jack Ryan’s desperate plea to intervene enthralls. Suddenly, the introductory drill sequence of this exact world-ending scenario that they didn’t take seriously is now in front of their face, and the concern for their decision-making abilities in this situation isn’t a joke anymore.

Though it would have been preferred to see Harrison Ford’s older Jack Ryan racing against the running doomsday clock and trying to solve this issue at the high-energy pace The Sum of All Fears thrives on because it would have been the perfect end to his trilogy as the character, Ben Affleck being chosen to reboot the series as a younger Jack wasn’t the worst choice. Considering the time period and Affleck’s status at the time, he was one of the more sought-after leading men in Hollywood. He’s capable as the analyst but is much cooler about it, he’s always been a good action hero, and he’s good looking enough to make the romance parts work just as well, even if it’s not necessarily vital to the process. At that time, there were only a small group of A-listers capable of taking over the mantle of Jack Ryan, especially from such a legend like Ford. When you consider all of these factors, Affleck does make sense. He may not command the respect of Ford but very few do. Even so, he pulls off the young, brash, and confident Jack very well.

At the same time, I have to repeat my assessment of Ben Affleck’s performance that I stated in my review for The Hunt for Red October: Affleck plays Affleck more than he plays Jack Ryan.

He cultivated an onscreen persona during the early 2000s and relied on it more often than not. In his defense, he’s always likable in the lead because of it. However, if you get the role of Jack Ryan, you have to understand the essence of the character, which I don’t feel he fully grasped in his sole appearance in the role. Chris Pine wasn’t amazing, but he did understand it better. At the same time, John Krasinski perfected, but I digress. In the case of Ben Affleck, he reverts to his usual persona a lot here, acting much more like a regular, somewhat immature “cool guy” rather than a respected analyst with (1) an uncanny ability to theorize and hypothesis cataclysmic events before they happen, (2) believe in justice and freedom to the point where he’s willing to step in and save the day no matter who he pisses off in the process, and (3) possess an aura and energy of someone who is a lot more intelligent and tougher than he may look. With this being said, he gradually gets there after the situation grows more dire following the earth-shattering stadium explosion, but for Jack Ryan fans, you wish they would have gotten there sooner. It’s not necessarily the worst thing about the movie, but its rightful criticism nonetheless as it comes off as a “Ben Affleck saving the world” type of movie rather than a “Jack Ryan” adventure. Plus, everything else is so well done that it comes at the expense of the Jack Ryan character at times because he’s not the best thing in the movie, which he should be. At times, he’s regulated to being the expository dialogue guy rather than the key figure we’re relying on in every situation. Obviously, his role in the climax makes the film, but he doesn’t seem as important when you look at the entirety of the movie. There are so many moving parts that put the film together, and Affleck’s Jack doesn’t take charge of it all like he regularly would and should.

On a minor note, a chunk of the obstacles Jack has to cross seems to be just car trouble stuff, which felt so unimportant after the bomb, and it borders on the groan-inducing. He needed to face more nameless antagonists or something. More scenes should’ve been similar to the fight at the docks. It would’ve added a lot more excitement and toughness to Affleck’s take on the character.

As is the case with a lot of Jack Ryan movies, this is another film in which you are at risk of getting lost in the details, so keep that in mind. Once more twists and turns are introduced like America’s involvement with the stolen plutonium, Israel, and Olson’s involvement in general, you really have to be locked in. Also, I couldn’t help but feel like neo-Nazis weren’t the way to go here. In an urban thriller, this is an easy choice for a group of antagonists, but billionaire fascists using America and Russia as pawns in their schemes? It just felt a little cliché and too safe. I get that the timing of Arab terrorists would have hit a little too close to home (though they were the bad guys in the Tom Clancy novel), but the lack of imagination in this aspect of the film felt like a missed opportunity. Going along with this, not much is known about Dressler until the last twenty minutes. Honestly, we don’t even know his name until much later into the movie. In every scene he’s in before the climax, we are taken into out-of-context conversations he’s having with his team of bad guys while they all talk about vague details of what’s going on. Unless you have the captions on, you read the book, and did an essay on this movie, none of these scenes change your understanding of the movie because that little is revealed or understood in these sequences. We’re too in the dark about Dressler until it’s close to beating him. His connection to Nazism comes in a montage sequence when Mason delivers the bomb in a cigarette machine in the football stadium. As Mason does this, Dressler speaks aloud about how back in Adolph Hitler’s day, fascism needed a strong host to spread its message, but they lost because the world was too big.

Now, the world is small because of global communications (cable TV, the internet, etc.), which is a fair point. With this, Dressler points out that a virus doesn’t need a strong host to spread anymore and how Adolph Hitler was dumb in trying to fight both Russia and America, which paves the way for Dressler to be the guy to take his spot and force the two countries to kill each other while he steps back. Okay, this plan makes sense if you want to cause a war, but the consequences of Dressler’s plan would result in annihilation of the entire world because of other countries’ political ties forcing them to become involved, as well as the fallout from the bombs in both areas. So, what does this truly accomplish for Dressler? He just wants the entire world to die, including himself? Right? There’s no way he would live through this if his hypothetical plan worked because the aftermath would involve the rest of the planet, so what are his goals with this? What are his motivations to reach these levels of catastrophe? The audience isn’t really let in on his exact motivations for chaos, why he became a Nazi in the first place, or why he wanted to involve himself in world politics. There’s no way he’s still this angry about his father being executed at Nuremburg fifty-six years after the fact.

As much as I like Willem Dafoe in general, Liev Schreiber may have done a better job than him in the role of John Clark. Even in a considerably smaller role, this take on John Clark embodies mix of the ruthlessness of the job, how good Clark is at said job, and the importance of the mission at hand while retaining heroic and likable qualities action. His ability to be a chameleon and someone who still has a heart in the heat of the moment really endears us to him in this strong, underrated performance. When he finally runs up on Olson, the feeling of satisfaction is as pure as can be. Also, I appreciate the screenwriters doing everything they could to make Cathy’s role mean something, but when a nurse asks in front a group of patients (after the hospital is having generator issues), “What do we do with the ones we know won’t make it”, you can’t help but wonder why they couldn’t have had this conversation privately.

The Sum of All Fears is yet another exciting adaptation of Tom Clancy’s novels. It doesn’t surpass the two Harrison Ford-led movies, but with a strong cast, star power, a thrilling premise, very good direction of the action taking place, and an overall entertaining final product, you’ll enjoy a lot of what this film has to offer. Without a doubt, it is a very worthy endeavor in the continuing adventures of Jack Ryan.

Fun Fact: This was originally set to be the third film in the Harrison Ford-led Jack Ryan movies, but he dropped out after him and director Phillip Noyce were “unable to work out script problems”.

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