' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...Patriot Games

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Some Drivel On...Patriot Games

“Patriot Games” was based on a novel by Tom Clancy, which I have not read, though director Philip Noyce’s cinematic version, rendered in concert with three screenwriters, does not feel like a movie based on a book at all, especially a 540 page one. It is not dense in plot or even character, not just streamlined but cunningly, craftily reduced, finding the suspenseful spine of the book in following it through, a far cry from both the preceding “The Hunt For Red October”, never mind The One With Keira Knightley. In this sort of bare bones aesthetic, Noyce is impeccably aided by the actors playing hero and villain – Harrison Ford as Clancy paragon Jack Ryan and Sean Bean as IRA militant Sean Miller. Few actors have been as skilled in these kinds of movies at saying more by doing less than Ford while Bean, just in the way he silently sits and stews, seems to be sitting on a powder keg of absolute hate. And if a year later Ford would make the superior “The Fugitive”, Noyce’s picture still kind of presages it, a movie re-imagining the chase between Marshal and Fugitive as one between Sean and Jack.

Before “Patriot Games” revs up, though, it opens with the Ryan family – Jack and his wife (Anne Archer) and daughter – playing Monopoly. You could not have rendered a more wholesome, All-American image if you’d just put three glasses of milk on the table. And so even if Jack goes on to save a British Royal, Lord William Holmes (James Fox), from being assassinated in the next scene, spurring these games between patriots, it is not the Royals nor the constitutional monarchy that Jack is fighting for; it’s this, his family. Just in case you missed the point, in fact, his wife becomes pregnant. And that notion of family extends to Sean, the Irish radical seen encouraging his brother just before their plan to kidnap the Royal goes awry. His brother winds up dead and in a moment beautifully composed in close-ups of the two sudden antagonists, you can virtually see Sean transfer all his hate from the monarchy to Jack Ryan, the exceptional American.

Essentially the film is just a sustained series of set pieces. And while none rise to the dizzying heights of the semi-truck obstacle course in Noyce’s superior “Salt” (2010), he still renders them with a crack professionalism overriding even their most cumbersome cliches, like a random car in traffic trying to pass at the worst time. The concluding sequence, meanwhile, a dark and stormy night speedboat chase might have apparently perturbed Clancy but feels right for the film, the payoff when Ryan and Miller go mano-a-mano. Occasionally, Noyce even duplicates and expands familiar scenarios. I do not know if IRA operatives like Kevin O’Donnell (Patrick Bergin) really sit around late at night drinking tea and watching videos of Clannad but, whatever man, this marks the second sequence of 1992 set to Clannad, adding an agreeably eerie feeling to a moment in which would-be assassins ascend a low hill on another dark and stormy night. A special forces attack carried out against O’Donnell and Miller, meanwhile, across the globe at a Libyan training camp is seen entirely through the viewpoint of a live satellite feed, placing us alongside Ryan in a CIA room and making us feel complicit.

This attack comes at the behest of Ryan. Indeed, though he spends the first half of the film telling everyone who asks that he is not in the CIA, he winds up getting back in anyway, much to the delight of old co-workers, though only after Miller targets his family. The emergent irony, then, is that Jack Ryan, American hero and future President of the United States, is harnessing the full power of the Federal Government to get back at the man who is trying to get back at him in the same way that man trying to get back at him is harnessing the weight of an IRA splinter group solely for his own maniacal purposes. A lot of movie characters over the years have offered the familiar refrain of We’re not so different, you and I, but rarely has a movie so efficiently lived it out.

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