Terror Stalks Across the Atlantic To Prey on an America Family
by Janet Maslin
New York Times
June 5, 1992
The Queen of England owes a debt of gratitude to the makers of
the sleek film adaptation of Tom Clancy's best-selling paranoid
version of this story is so intelligently streamlined that it
has the good
grace to leave the Queen alone.
In Mr. Clancy's original, which revolves around a plot against
the Prince of
Wales and his young family, the heroic ex-C.I.A. agent Jack Ryan
attackers and becomes an instant celebrity on English television.
trouble, he is not only knighted but also thanked ad nauseam
by Her Majesty. So
the Queen visits Jack's bedside and makes Jack and Cathy Ryan
house guests at
Buckingham Palace, gushing about the adorableness of the couple's
daughter. Sally. The Queen's husband treats Jack like a new chum.
the Prince, listens gratefully to Jack's friendly advice about
how to solve his
marital problems and how to be more of a man. "We must see
more of each other,"
the Prince declares. By the end of the novel, Jack has saved
the Prince yet
again and feels comfortable addressing him as "pal."
It is some measure of this film's good sense and relative probity
generic royal cousin (played wryly by James Fox) has now been
the book's improbable lineup of Ryan admirers. Much small talk
and hubris has
been excised from Patriot Games, leaving just the bare bones
of Mr. Clancy's
political tug of war. On one side stand Jack, the sanctity of
family and the remarkable ability of the C.I.A. to influence
events with the help of highest-tech surveillance gimmickry.
On the other stand
Irish terrorists who, in the absence of the kinds of cold war
populated Mr. Clancy's Hunt for Red October, are the author's
best exemplars of
the forces of anarchy and evil. Or at least they'll have to do.
Unlike the heartier Hunt for Red October, which was directed
by John McTiernan,
Patriot Games takes a pensive, moody view of the intrigue in
which Jack becomes
embroiled. As directed by Phillip Noyce, an Australian, it has
more in common
with Mr. Noyce's meticulous, brooding thriller Dead Calm than
with the earlier
Clancy-based spy story. Mr. Noyce's approach is quite elegant
(thanks in large
part to Donald M. McAlpine's decorous cinematography and James
mournfully lovely score), even if that sometimes seems peculiar
in light of his
material. The cool, sophisticated staging of a car chase through
traffic amounts to a cinematic oxymoron.
Patriot Games delivers the best possible version of a tale that
boils down to
nothing but gamesmanship, as its title implies. Except for a
problem on the home front (Anne Archer, as Cathy, has become
much too familiar
in the role of the warm, ruefully sexy spouse), it concentrates
on the string
of elaborately staged ambushes that are this story's main attraction.
its polish and its apparent global span, the film never really
moves beyond the
hollow question of whether the Ryan family will survive each
new threat to life
and limb. "You get him, Jack," snaps the once-serene
Cathy, after an Irish
terrorist makes a threatening call to the Ryan home. "I
don't care what you
have to do - just get him."
From the attempted strike at the royals near Buckingham Palace
to a two-pronged
attack on the Ryans after they return to Maryland, the film moves
toward one last, watery showdown that recalls the ending of Martin
recent Cape Fear. Lodged somewhere in mid-story is a remarkable
sequence in which coffee-drinking C.I.A. analysts, dressed in
stand quietly watching abstract computer images. The eerily beautiful
shown on the monitor represent the flaming destruction of a terrorist
camp halfway around the world.
Despite its many violent episodes, the film remains bloodless.
Perhaps that can
be traced to Mr. Clancy's fascination with technology, and to
his way of
treating human characters only slightly less methodically than
machines. The Ryans are so generically happy, and the terrorists
bad, that it's a wonder Mr. Noyce can create any real tension
or surprise. But
he has cast the villainous roles particularly well; the fierce-looking
Bean is outstandingly good as Ryan's main antagonist, and Patrick
the right air of calculation to the terrorist mastermind he plays.
the film's main sequences, like an encounter between Mr. Bean's
Sean Miller and
David Threlfall as the police inspector who has been his captor,
horror from the looks of pure loathing that these terrorists
bestow upon their
Mr. Ford's restrained performance is just right for this chilly
he even brings some earnestness to the happy-family scenes, which
saccharine. He makes a more plausible Jack Ryan than Alec Baldwin
did in the
earlier film, partly because this screenplay (by W. Peter Iliff
Stewart) is less obsessed with technical jargon and high-tech
toys. The devices
that are used here -- an antennalike video camera that can creep
doors to do its spying, or the satellite technology that can
scan a terrorist
training camp from somewhere in space -- are gratifyingly unobtrusive.
exception is the infrared goggles that are critical to the story's
showdown, and wind up recalling The Silence of the Lambs.
Patriot Games can be as readily watched for its subtext as for
its main events.
From the sign marking Hanover Street (one of Mr. Ford's earlier
credits) to the
portrait of John F. Kennedy on the wall at C.I.A. headquarters,
often takes on unexpected prominence. One bit of trivia worth
noting is that
the authentic look of the Ryans' waterfront homestead on Chesapeake
achieved only by digging up and later replanting 17 palm trees.
embodiment of the Ryans' wholesome, traditional values is quite
was shot in California.