The Birthday Series – Clear and Present Danger (1994)
How do you keep a series fresh? Usually it’s a case of diminishing returns, especially after the first sequel. In the case of the Jack Ryan series they had the benefit of a series of books by Tom Clancy to base their films on. And despite three different actors portraying Ryan in four films, each film has substantial merit. ‘Clear and Present Danger’ ranks second in my estimations, behind the excellent ‘The Hunt for Red October’.
Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is the Acting Deputy Director of the CIA, replacing his close friend James Greer (James Earl Jones), who is terminally ill. When a yacht is seized by the US Coastguard, they discover evidence of the murder of a close friend and campaign contributor of the United States President Bennett (Donald Moffat). In his investigation, Ryan concludes that the murders were resulting from the victim swindling the powerful Colombian drug lord Ernesto Escobedo (Miguel Sandoval). Hush hush government retaliation comes about in the form of a covert operation led by John Clark (Willem Dafoe). Meanwhile, Escobedo’s right hand man and chief intelligence officer Felix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida) uses the situation to his advantage, and attempts to take over the Columbian drug trade.
As you can probably tell, that plot description is fairly convoluted. And that’s just the start of it. ‘Clear and Present Danger’ challenges you to keep up. It’s a pretty complicated story, full of political intrigue, techno babble and some pretty nifty action set pieces to boot. Whereas Harrison Fords previous adventure as Jack Ryan essentially boiled down to a revenge film, this one broadens the scope and has him attempting to unravel a plot that takes him right to the top.
This is probably my third favourite Harrison Ford role, behind (of course) Indy and Han. He’s the “boy scout” who will do whatever he must for good. When accused of seeing everything is black and white, he carefully explains (by yelling and gesturing wildly) “Not black and white. Right and wrong!” His moral compas is spelled out in a wonderful scene with James Earl Jones. Ryan took an oath, not to the President, but to the people. Cue the square jaw heroics. All the actors are excellent, in particular the snakelike Henry Czerny, Earl Jones and de Almeida. And Willem Defoe, who I’m so used to seeing give oddball performances, is terrific as John Clark, the covert agent who gets sold up the river.
Credit must be given to Donald Stewart, Steven Zaillian and John Millius for streamlining Tom Clancy’s yawn inducing novel into an exciting action adventure. I’ve tried to read a couple of Clancy’s books and after about 100 pages my eyes glaze over and I can’t take it anymore. It’s a shame, because the stories are terrific, it’s just the pouring over every minute detail that does my head in.
Philip Noyce is really great at this type of film. He handles the multilayered, complex story with total confidence, and ramps up the tension during the action set pieces. One of the highlights of the film is the scene where Ryan and Ritter (Czerny) go tête à tête over some computer files. It’s as good as an action scene, with Noyce building tension by intercutting Ryan trying to gather evidence of Ritter’s involvement by remotely accessing his computer, while Ritter is simultaneously trying to delete all evidence. It’s probably my favourite scene of the film. And then there’s the action set piece, where Ryans convoy gets ambushed. This scene is apparently lauded for it’s accuracy in how to escape such an attack, but whatever the case, it’s a brilliant, nail-biting piece of cinema.
The one aspect of ‘Clear and Present Danger’ that mildly irks me is the use of original language. This is not a new or surprising thing, and being an American film made primarily for English speaking audiences, I can understand it. But it would have lent the film that extra authenticity if the scenes set in Columbia, featuring native Colombians and South Americans, were spoken in Spanish. It’s a minor complaint, but I feel it would’ve helped the film if it had been so.
Even though ‘Clear and Present Danger’ was only made 16 years ago, it’s one of those films that Hollywood don’t seem to make anymore. A film with a multi-layered, challenging story, that expects your attention. The plots of so many action films these days can be described in just one or two short sentences. But this film is bursting with intriguing developments, wonderful character moments and terrific action. I wish Hollywood would make them like they used to.
Thanks for coming to my 1994 birthday. Adios!
For Droids a jolly good fellow!