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CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER

Directed by Philip Noyce (1994, Paramount Pictures)
Starring Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, Anne Archer, Joaquim de Almeida, and James Earl Jones

A new CIA executive is sent to Columbia to determine a drug smuggler's contact.

View Count: Twice

 

 

3 stars

March 16th, 2002 on DVD

 
    Some really intense action and cool plotting, but it is all undercut by an open ending that leaves the viewer with the sense that the movie is only half over.

And that's not a good thing.  It's also hard not to compare this film with Patriot Games, which takes place with many of the same characters, about three or four years earlier.  At the end of that one, the open ending was whether Jack Ryan's wife was going to have a boy or a girl baby.  In this movie, their young girl is older, and they have a young son, as well.  It was really cool to see Thora Birch in this role -was she ever young! 

Jack Ryan takes over from his boss, Admiral Greer, who has cancer and who dies by the end of the film, just when Ryan needs him most.  I liked the way their relationship stayed strong, even when they were getting weaker.  Just when Greer thinks he is being given more bad news, Ryan gives him new magazines to replace the old hospital ones.  This is the gesture of true friendship.

Ryan does so good at Greer's job that the President asks him to go to Columbia in order to search for a drug lord's contact.  They found millions of dollars in drug money in the accounts of a murdered American -who also happened to be a friend of the President.  I don't understand Ryan's logic in telling the President to play up the friendship instead of playing it down.  But it seems to work, and Ryan gets into his good graces, even though he's the new guy. 

The entire story makes the President look very flippant.  He does everything his advisors tell him without asking for second opinions.  When presented with a dilemma, he makes snap decisions.  Not the kind of man who I want running the USA. 

One of these decisions sends Ryan to Columbia.  When Ryan is successful in finding out the contact, but says he is not a negotiator, the President casually sends another of his aides, who went to school with a Columbian government official, who may or may not be skilled or appropriate for the job -we are never told. 

This leads to the greatest scene in the movie, though, and I think it was simply a move to get somebody down there who could be associated with Ryan, but who was expendable.  As they are driving with police escort down several streets, Ryan watches as a woman hurriedly closes her door.  Others bolt their windows, obviously aware of what is about to happen.  The setup was terrific.  Ryan notices people on the roofs of buildings, and then a rocket launcher blows up the lead and last car in their caravan.  When nearly everybody is killed, driving back and forth in the blocked laneway, Ryan finally takes charge, in the typical Harrison Ford manner.  But he is the only survivor (as far as I could tell). 

We see the typical CIA data centers in the US and in Columbia, but they are no match for the pivotal satellite telemetry room in Patriot Games.  But they are just as effective.  They gather voiceprints of the suspects, and after the main bad guy, Cortez, kills his government agency girlfriend, Ryan is the only one who notices the right clues.  Why Cortez killed the girl is a question to me.  How would anybody put the clues together?  The only reason they were able to figure out who he was is because of her death. 

Unknown to Ryan, his rival in the same post at the CIA has sent troops into Columbia, against strict orders by the Congressional commission.  But all that will fall at Ryan's feet.  The orders come indirectly from the President, who wants the drug trade curtailed at all costs.  He seems to succeed, too.  I wonder, now that all the drug lords are dead, who will take over.  Would it be somebody worse? 

The troops are awesome to watch.  There is one, whom we get to know, who is silent as a mouse, able to sneak up on anybody without alerting them.  He is the lead sniper and scout.  He gets a close-up view when an F-18 fighter aircraft throws a bomb at the facility where all the drug lords except one are meeting.  The blame goes on that last living drug lord, as the sole survivor.  But the military wasn't too smart this time.  Ryan easily figures out that it was not a car bomb, as the media was told.  The blast pattern does not match what would be found in the case of a car bomb.  Cortez also figures this out.  I think it would have been better if they had sent a car bomb!

Cortez makes an offer to Ryan's boss, the head of the CIA.  He will take over the Columbian drug trade, cutting shipments in half, which is good for the President.  All he wants in return is the location of the troops that are destroying the drugs and supplies.  For some reason, the CIA boss gives him that information.  Why not simply recall the troops?  There is a throwaway line that the troops could admit that they were actually in Columbia, but if they were black ops, why would they do that? 

Ryan confronts his rival at the CIA, but gets nowhere.  He then goes down to Columbia once again, and helps track down the now-missing soldiers.  They were ambushed and all killed, except for the expert sniper, who was away scouting at the time, and two who were captured alive.  The director of this movie cut this slaughter with the funeral for Greer, which should have seemed a counterpoint, but for some reason, it was rather ineffective. 

Ryan finds his contact, and helps rescue the remaining troops, which were some more great scenes.  I could have done without Cortez coming back to life to unbalance Ryan so that he nearly falls off the helicopter, but the sniper kills Cortez anyway, so we know that he will not be taking part in the future drug trade.

There was also a hilarious scene where Ryan buys a helicopter, because there are none to rent!  He offers his business card, and the seller's face lights up!  (I actually got to use the zoom feature on my DVD for the first time here -checking out Ryan's business card!)

When he gets back to the US, Ryan confronts the President, which is not a smart thing to do without huge support.  Still, he seemed to hold his own, but I am sure he could have used Greer's advice on how to approach this from an oblique angle, instead of head-on.  I was disappointed that Ryan didn't respond to the President's "how dare you" speech with the same response that Greer gave Ryan on his deathbed -that the American people are the President's boss, even if he holds himself above them. 

The movie ends with threats by the President, which sound way too likely to be the outcome of the inquest that we see the beginnings of.  Why was this left hanging?  Was there a sequel planned that never got made?  It probably could have been another book, discussing what the President did, with the political and lawyer infighting.  But we were left without an answer.  What is Ryan's life going to be like after that hearing?  I certainly care, and I'm sure other fans of this movie do too. 

The ending didn't ruin the movie, but it made it seem incomplete.  The rest was a good mix of drama and action, but it cannot compare with its two prequels, Patriot Games and The Hunt for Red October.  Still, I liked Ryan's character, even if he was naive at times.  And I always liked Greer.  The President seemed strangely characterized, and I don't know why he was written that way.  The others were really peripheral, but were alright, as well.  All we really cared about was Jack Ryan, and he gets to be the hero and the boy scout.

As for the DVD, aside from the quality of the picture and sound, it was nothing special.  The DVD included the theatrical trailer, which, as often happens, contains several scenes that were not actually in the movie.  For an older movie like this one, I didn't expect a lot of extras, and certainly didn't get any.  However, the sound and picture quality were outstanding.  The sound effects were crisp and clear, and it really added to the experience, more than simple video has.

 
   

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