Dangerous Times

The line between reality and fiction can be a very thin one.

Less than a year after the real-life terrorist attack on the United States, an old Tom Clancy novel - one that, coincidentally, describes a similar attack - has been converted into a spy-versus-spy drama on the cinema screen. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction...

In Clancy's "The Sum Of All Fears", the erstwhile aggressor is a terrorist group in Israel which detonates a nuclear device on American soil while simultaneously making it appear to be the work of the Russians. Since this is still the era of the Cold War, suspicions flare high on both sides of the Atlantic, with both America and Russia escalating the conflict until it reaches catastrophic proportions. The only one who knows the truth? Jack Ryan, erstwhile hero of many previous Clancy novels.

In this one, Ryan (Ben Affleck) is a junior CIA analyst who's first sent to Russia to evaluate and profile the new President on his home turf. While it begins out as a largely academic assignment, the discovery of missing nuclear scientists in Russia sends off alarm bells at CIA headquarters and propels Ryan right into the line of fire. As the conflict between America and Russia rages on, Ryan must race against time to uncover the evidence of third-party involvement and prevent two proud leaders from succumbing to the temptation to launch a nuclear war.

The plot of Clancy's "The Sum Of All Fears" was deliciously convoluted, and the film largely holds true to the original. Affleck, stepping into the role previously played by both Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, is excellent as Ryan, conveying both intelligence and a ready practicality in crisis situations; Morgan Freeman, who plays his boss at the CIA, also does a great job, as does the remaining ensemble. Much credit must also go to director Phil Robinson for keeping the action flowing rapidly between different spots on the globe, and for ensuring that the twisty plot doesn't leave the viewer with a sense of ennui. Well worth watching, if only as a reminder of the troubled times we live in.

This article was first published on 25 Aug 2002.