' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...Clear and Present Danger

Friday, January 15, 2021

Some Drivel On...Clear and Present Danger

“Clear and Present Danger” (1994) was the third movie based on a Tom Clancy novel and the second directed by Phillip Noyce, who also helmed the previous entry, “Patriot Games” (1992). In the latter, Noyce really made a movie, mostly just extracting the thrills as opposed to the plot, reducing it to a successful exercise in tension, even adding some genuine stylistic flourishes along the way. In the former, however, back in the director’s chair, Noyce seems more committed to the author’s vision and the novel’s scope. Undoubtedly he cut plenty of material to engineer a two-hour run time, but “Clear and Present Danger” still feels vast despite, like “Patriot Games”, essentially being a revenge epic. Of course, if the revenge sought in “Patriot Games” was by an IRA terrorist on our CIA hero, Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) in “Clear Present and Danger” violent, personal retribution is sought by, egads, the American President (Donald Moffat). But if that would suggest a moral grey area as opposed to the ostensible black & white of the red, white and blue, “Clear and Present Danger”, despite literally saying this out loud (“The world is grey, Jack!”), does not quite have the temerity to see this idea the whole way through.

The far-reaching story concerns the President ordering, not in so many words, a clandestine reprisal against a Colombian drug lord, Escobedo (Miguel Sandoval), for murdering the POTUS’s businessman friend, never mind that his businessman friend had been skimming millions from Escobedo’s cartel, recasting the War on Drugs as a Steven Seagal thriller, or something. Ryan, who becomes the CIA deputy director when Vice Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) takes ill, is none the wiser, even going on The Hill to unwittingly lie to Congress to help fund these covert actions. If this sound simple, it is far from, involving myriad moving parts, all of which Noyce, in tandem with his editor Neil Travis, deftly lays out so that we are never confused, utilizing crosscutting to make it seem almost as if we are virtually flipping from chapter to chapter of a 688-page book. Granted, this clinical style mutes the thrills, even the action sequences, all of which Noyce makes feel not so much like firefights in and of themselves but mere extensions of backroom power players carried out by shady black ops wranglers like John Clark (Willem Dafoe). 

If Alec Baldwin, who I glimpsed in a partial rewatch of “The Hunt for Red October” sometime last year, played the Jack Ryan part with more of a gleam in his eye, as did Chris Pine in the one that starred Keira Knightley, Ford truly encapsulates the ethos of a boy scout, not just in the actions his character takes but in the actor’s almost quizzically defiant air. When Ryan flies down to Colombia to team up with Clark for the film’s denouement, the way Ford wears those Ray-Bans and that windbreaker, the determined but innocuous way he carries himself, improbably suggests a dad coaching middle school basketball going black op. It’s really quite impressive. And though Noyce does a fine job visually communicating that Joaquim de Almeida’s Cortez is the true brains of Escobedo’s operation, concluding his scenes on shots of his character rather than the #1, de Almeida does not make as good a villain, frankly, as Moffat. Indeed, Moffat spiritually presages Dubya, evincing both oblivious folksiness and knowing menace, so much that sometimes you have to squint to tell if you’re being put on. If Moffat is slippery, so is Dafoe, utterly inhabiting the air of a spook who cavorts around Panama in an actual Panama hat. Though his character and Ford’s are kept apart until the very end, they emit an unlikely kinda buddy CIA agent vibe that a movie like this is simply unequipped to explore. It made me wonder if Tarantino’s next genre reimagination should be the Tom Clancy thriller? That’s neither here nor there. 

If Ryan sticks out like a sore thumb in Clark’s company, he still gets the job done, discovering the American government is cozying up to Cortez to get Escobedo out of the way and then seeking out Escobedo to let him know, deliberately pitting bad guy against bad guy. This builds to a moment where, briefly, tantalizingly, it appears as if Jack Ryan, boy scout, is going to sit back and watch a Pablo Escobar ringer beat his lieutenant to death with a baseball bat. Through a red herring, though, “Clear and Present Danger” manages to extract Ryan from that murky middle ground and then tacks on an epilogue where he confronts the President peddling b.s. I dunno. Through an objective lens perhaps it’s all a bit much. But I watched this scene less than a week after January 6, 2021 and some scattered semblance of American insurrection, the moment which drove so many craven bootlickers not to confront the President about his incitement of fear and violence but to resign and cowardly clean their hands of it. And if I may step out of the review for a moment (why not? It’s just drivel!), when Ford gritted and his teeth, went full-growl and stood toe-to-toe with a lying, sniveling Commander-in-Chief, boy, I tell ya, despite my jaded critical perspective, my heart swelled. 

Jack Ryan, it turns out, really is a myth.

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