American intelligence experts race to stop terrorists from triggering a global war in an eerily topical motion picture adapted from a best-selling novel by Tom Clancy. Alan Silverman has a look at The Sum of All Fears.
The premise comes from the Clancy novel published in 1991: an American city is struck by a bomb blast and the surprised nation goes on alert. The first clues point to a sneak attack by a newly elected Russian president; but the events are being manipulated.
In a change from the novel, the film's terrorists are neo-Nazis bent on establishing a fascist world order.
Desperately trying to put the pieces together before all-out war erupts is Jack Ryan, a young Russia expert who has just started working at the CIA. That's another change from the book and from the previous films based on Tom Clancy political thrillers. Ryan was first portrayed by Alec Baldwin in The Hunf For Red October and then taken over by Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger In The Sum of All Fears, Ben Affleck takes his turn as the adventurous analyst.
"It's very intimidating," Affleck admits. " First I thought 'I'm no Harrison Ford. I'm not going to step in there and try to follow in those footsteps. That's madness.' I'm not that guy who has worked in the CIA for 30 years and understands everything and has it all wired and is a hero. I can't play that. But when I sat down and talked to them, they had an interesting idea which I immediately hooked into, which was that it's a contemporary story, but the guy is just starting off. Then I sort of knew that at the end of the day there were going to be people who, no matter what, say ' he's not Harrison Ford.' That's just the way it is. I'd be fooling myself if I thought anything different. I'm willing to take the hits from the diehard people and also hope that people give it a chance. I don't pretend to be Harrison Ford. I'm an actor who got hired to do the best job he could do."
Affleck notes that the film was completed well before the September 11 terror attacks; and he acknowledges the challenge of presenting a "Hollywood" version in a film intended primarily as entertainment.
"There is no doubt in my mind that it changed the whole movie. We made an escapist political thriller that we wanted to imbue with humanity and realism. It was meant to raise some alarms a little bit regarding the proliferation of nuclear weapons," he explains. It was something Clancy was very concerned about in 1991 when he wrote the book. I think those concerns are still valid, if not, more valid than ever. It's a hard thing because I do consider the movie entertainment, but I don't think entertainment by definition, has to be fluffy or mindless or stupid. I think etertainment is the essence of drama; and this movie went from a spy thriller with a warning or alarm about the state of the world to being a drama, something that plays differently and affects audiences differently."
The plot turns on the quality of the intelligence gathered and the ability of Ryan and his fellow analysts to interpret it for the political leaders who must ultimately take action. Director Phil Alden Robinson believes that is what makes the film especially timely.
"You see the mechanics of, decision-by-decision, how people make what seem to be small, logical steps; but each one of them leads you closer to war," he says. "That, to me, was fascinating. This is not a film about Russian-American relations. It's about how war comes about from lack of information and fear. You can change the players. You can change the countries, but in all cases it's the same: lack of information and fear."
The Sum of All Fears also features Morgan Freeman as the CIA chief and James Cromwell plays the U.S. President.