Review: Patriot Games

Retired CIA analyst and former U.S. Marine Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is on vacation in England with his wife (Anne Archer) and daughter (Thora Birch) when they find themselves unwittingly in the vicinity of an attempt on the life of Lord Holmes (James Fox), a member of the royal family. The culprits are an off-shoot of the IRA, the most prominent members played by Patrick Bergin, Sean Bean, and an English woman played by Polly Walker. Lord Holmes survives the attack, Bergin and Walker flee, Bean is captured and arrested, whilst Ryan mortally wounds Bean’s little brother. After returning to the States, Ryan learns that Bean has escaped and hooked up once again with his comrades, now with revenge on his mind. Ryan decides to request for reinstatement into the CIA to bring them all down. James Earl Jones and J.E. Freeman play Ryan’s CIA superiors, Samuel L. Jackson is Ryan’s CIA/Marine buddy Robby, Richard Harris plays an IRA spokesman named Paddy O’Neil, Alun Armstrong and David Threlfall are Scotland Yard inspectors, whilst veteran British character actors Gerald Sim and P.H. Moriarty have cameos as well.

I’ve always considered this 1992 Phillip Noyce (The well-liked “Dead Calm” and “Rabbit-Proof Fence”, the underrated Rutger Hauer Zatoichi flick “Blind Fury”) thriller to be the weakest of the Jack Ryan flicks, and although it’s been forever since I last saw “Clear and Present Danger”, I still stand by that assessment. I have, however found myself able to give this one a soft recommendation nonetheless. It’s a well-made movie and better than I remembered from when I was a teenager, but my complete lack of interest in Northern Ireland’s politics still makes this one less enthralling for me than it might for you.

Noyce is a perfectly fine craftsman of action-thrillers and the film is definitely at its best when going for tension. It has also been well-shot by another Aussie, Don McAlpine (“Don’s Party”, “Clear and Present Danger”, “The Dressmaker”). I appreciated that Noyce got this one off and running pretty quickly, and most of the cast impresses. Harrison Ford hadn’t quite descended into grumpy old fart territory here and is a good Jack Ryan. I was probably more impressed with the highly underrated Anne Archer for making the most out of a completely clichéd spousal role. Whatever humour and light is in the film comes from her. She’s terrific in a dud part.

In support, James Earl Jones is rarely anything other than spot-on, Alun Armstrong is rock-solid, and even Thora Birch is quite good as the cute daughter. Samuel L. Jackson is solid but obviously underused just one year after giving the performance of his career in “Jungle Fever”. Likewise, Richard Harris isn’t afforded the biggest role of his career but it’s an appropriate and effective casting choice. Ditto James Fox. Of the terrorists, the two most impressive are obviously Patrick Bergin and Sean Bean, despite the latter’s horrendous attempt at an Irish accent. Bergin is good, whilst Bean’s face is perfect for such a villainous part and I reckon his character is probably the more interesting of the two. I may not have especially cared about their cause, but the two actors nonetheless kept me more engaged than I might otherwise had been. I was far less impressed with the work by Polly Walker as their cohort of sorts. She’s pretty awful I must say. There’s also an absurd performance by David Threlfall as a Scotland Yard inspector that isn’t helpful to the film at all.

I’m still not this film’s biggest fan, but 38 year-old me certainly appreciates this Tom Clancy adaptation a lot more than 13 year-old me did. It’s got some well-orchestrated tension and terrific turns by most of the cast. I’m just not terribly interested in the politics of it. Your mileage may- and likely will- differ. For me it’s just a solid film from a decent genre director, that’s all. Based on the Clancy thriller, the screenplay is by W. Peter Iliff (“Point Break”, “Prayer of the Rollerboys”) and Donald Stewart (“The Hunt for Red October”, “Clear and Present Danger”).

Rating: B-


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