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The Sum Of All Fears

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Sum Of All Fears

Starring: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 125 Minutes
Release Date: May 2002
Genres: Action, Suspense

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Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

So much in life is about timing. THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, based on the popular novel by Tom Clancy and directed brilliantly by Phil Alden Robinson (SNEAKERS), is a great film whose power might have been missed or ridiculed before 9-11 and whose subject would have been too hard to take in the months right after 9-11. Now that the country has had time to process its feelings, it is the perfect time for a movie that explores the what-if scenario of a nuclear weapon that could explode on U.S. soil.

Previous films in the Jack Ryan series focused almost exclusively on Ryan, played in the last few films by Harrison Ford. The Jack Ryan acting torch this time has passed from Ford to Ben Affleck (PEARL HARBOR). To put it honestly, Ben Affleck is no Harrison Ford, but the surprise is that it doesn't matter since the script by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne has been written so that the movie is really an ensemble piece. In addition to Affleck, who turns in a nice performance, the producers have assembled a marvelous cast that matches well the power of Clancy's story. The incomparable Morgan Freeman (HIGH CRIMES) plays Bill Cabot, the head of the CIA. Liev Schreiber is superb as John Clark, a smart and resilient undercover agent. James Cromwell (BABE) is on board as President Fowler, and Philip Baker Hall, Ron Rifkin and Bruce McGill play three of the president's top aides. Ciarán Hinds plays the rather inscrutable Russian president.

The story, which has been modified some from the novel, starts in 1973 when the Israelis lose a nuclear bomb. Much of the story, set in the present, concerns what happened to that weapon. Along the way, the plot takes several turns that you are sure that it won't and doesn't take one big turn that you're sure it will.

When things start popping in the old Soviet Union, Cabot calls in junior analyst Ryan to help out. An historian by trade, Ryan is a CIA expert on the Russian president. "You're about to breathe air way above your pay grade," Cabot warns Ryan before his first Congressional hearing behind locked doors. The script is full of dry humor that always rings true. One of the best lines comes on the T-shirt of a Russian nuclear arms worker: "I'm a bomb technician. If you see me run, try to catch up."

The movie's first half, which is purposely a bit confusing at times, serves mainly to set the stage. Although the first part is fine, it is only in the second half that the movie achieves greatness with chilling, heart-stopping impact.

The movie cuts back and forth between the Russians, the Americans and another group. The Russian and American presidents are forced by circumstances to play a deadly game with sketchy information and tempers flaring. "These days, it's better to appear guilty than impotent," the Russian president reflects at a critical moment.

The parallels with the world today are remarkable and the situation that President Bush and the American people find themselves in are shockingly like the scenario that Clancy laid out several years ago in his novel. It is almost as if the names were changed to protect the not-at-all innocent, but we know that Clancy wrote his book before Americans even dreamed of the events to come. This is an incredible movie, and the timing is right. America is now absolutely ready to see it.

THE SUM OF ALL FEARS runs 2:05. It is rated PG-13 for "violence, disaster images and brief strong language" and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.

Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes

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