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It’s a Shame Ford’s ‘Clear and Present Danger’ Stalled the Franchise

Superstar's second stab at Jack Ryan hinted at even better adventures ahead

“Clear and Present Danger” (1994) felt like a middle chapter for director Phillip Noyce and star Harrison Ford.

The film marked their second time adapting a Tom Clancy bestseller after the success of their “Patriot Games” (1992).

Instead, “Clear and Present Danger” was not only the last time Noyce and Ford would work together, but Clancy’s Jack Ryan film franchise went on a hibernation that lasted nearly a decade.

Clear and Present Danger (1994) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

“Clear and Present Danger” once again stars Ford as Ryan, with James Earl Jones also returning as his friend and mentor Jim Greer. Like a James Bond film, there’s no mention of the events of the prior film.

Ryan, once a CIA analyst, has been given a job upgrade as Deputy Director of Intelligence and must report to the President, played by Donald Moffat. A Columbian drug lord (an excellent Miguel Sandoval) and his intelligence officer (played with pure charisma and menace by Joaquim de Almeida) have made the mistake of killing the Hardin family, friends of the President, which sets forth a series of attacks and retaliations by both sides.

An investigation of the Hardin murders by Ryan pushes the plot in motion. There are also subplots involving a well-connected mistress (Ann Magnuson), a CIA operative (Willem Dafoe) and Ryan’s wife Cathy (Anne Archer), who winds up having an odd connection to the story.

Archer and Thora Birch (who played Ryan’s daughter) were central figures in “Patriot Games.” Here, only Cathy is crucial in a contrived but admittedly enjoyable plot twist involving her connection to the villain.

FAST FACT: 1992’s “Patriot Games” earned $82 million at the U.S. box office. “Clear and Present Danger,” by comparison, hauled in $122 million stateside. Ford reportedly found the scripts for a third Jack Ryan outing not up to par. That handed the saga over to Ben Affleck.

Ryan is defined as the embodiment of good, an American James Bond – at least until we got Ethan Hunt (I’d say Remo Williams came in between but since no one remembers him, let’s move on).

Dafoe’s natural intensity is a nice contrast with Ford’s charismatic but deceptively low-key turn. By playing up Ryan’s insecurities, Ford makes Ryan’s reluctant ability to head into danger all the more surprising. Ford plays Ryan as reserved and careful until he must be a man of action.

The tag-team performances by de Almeida and Sandoval are golden. Both actors embody characters who seem too smart to be doing what they do, but too morally compromised to do anything else.

Magnuson plays a character who acts as a plot device, but she manages, in just a few minutes of screen time, to humanize her. The whole cast is like this, as every role is ideally matched with the right actor. What can you say about a film where Vondie Curtis-Hall, Ted Raimi and Dean Jones (!) are all wonderful?

My favorite Clancy novel, “The Cardinal and the Kremlin” (published in 1988), was never made into a film (the fall of the Berlin Wall instantly dated it) but the Ford/Noyce combo proved a strong combo, at least for two movies.

“Clear and Present Danger” predates “Traffic” (2000) and “Sicario” (2015), both of which are even darker in their depiction of the drug trade and the rotten core of leadership at the center. Both offer trickier, less black and white depictions of the morally compromised figures on both sides of the ongoing drug war.

Sicario TRAILER 1 (2015) - Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro Movie HD

 

Clancy’s busy but coherent narrative shoehorns in a scene where Ford and a pre-Kittridge Henry Czerny race to acquire data off a computer and engage in a furious typing match. Truly a visual that indicates what was just around the corner – there must be dozens and dozens of movies where suspense is generated by a slow-moving download bar).

Czerny is deliciously loathsome here, but when he tells Ryan, both as a warning and as a piece of advice, “The world is gray, Jack,” he’s right.

Noyce’s film lumbers a bit after the extraordinary SUV convoy attack scene (the pace slows down to allow the audience to catch their breath). The film picks up once de Alameda reclaims the focus – an interesting bit of subtext is how de Almeida’s character is said to resemble Ryan, an example of doubling (or an exact opposite) that the film never fully explores.

The third act of “Clear and Present Danger” sees Ryan remorseful over bad policy and rotten decisions that led to many deaths. It’s at this point that the film turns Ryan into Rambo, as he decides to return to the battlefield and rescue the surviving troops who have been neglected by bad political maneuvers.

Clear and Present Danger (7/9) Movie CLIP - If I Go Down You're Going With Me! (1994) HD

It’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy as much as “Rambo: First Blood Part II” (1985), but Ford and Dafoe sell it. Ford contrasts Ryan’s earnestness with Dafoe’s weary soldier – outside of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989), this is my favorite pairing of Ford with an unlikely but weirdly perfect screen partner.

There’s a bit here where Ryan literally knocks on a drug dealer’s door to get his attention. It’s so earnest and Ford sells it completely.

The third act drops the bleak paranoia and goes into full action-movie mode, as though an Alan J. Pakula thriller transformed into a Stallone flick. All plausibility is stretched but “Clear and Present Danger” manages to be so exciting, it gets away with it.

The Sum of All Fears (2002) Official Trailer #1 - Ben Affleck Movie MD

How does Ford rank with the other actors who played Jack Ryan? I feel like Alec Baldwin (in “The Hunt For Red October”) was the best, as he, like his character, was green and inexperienced but wound up holding his own in the end.

Ben Affleck (in “The Sum of All Fears”) and Chris Pine (in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”) are underrated, while John Krasinski (in the “Jack Ryan” series) has what Baldwin had. Krasinski was not an obvious choice, not even after “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” (2016),” which makes his turn so satisfying for being so dialed in and enthralling.

Ford is probably the best Ryan, if only because, in the same way Connery is the best James Bond, he had the most chances to hone it.

The final scene of “Clear and Present Danger” is a killer.

Ryan, in a private moment with the President, lets down his guard and tells the Commander in Chief exactly what’s on his mind. Rambo never laid into Col. Trautman as hard as Ryan digs into Moffat’s POTUS.

Ford and Moffat play the scene beautifully.

Once again, the hero saves the day, as Ryan prevented WWIII in “Red October,” defeated IRA agents in “Patriot Games” and, here, saves U.S troops used as pawns in a bad political move.

What then is the lesson of Noyce’s film? Doing the right thing is painful, punishing and absolutely essential.

I wish Ford and Noyce had one more go at the Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan franchise, though the earnest patriotism of the character remains subsequently intact in different hands.

2 Comments

  1. It’s a shame about Remo Williams. I have the entire book collection, many from the first decade are original prints. That movie was terrible though and contend that a movie adaptation is near impossible given his abilities and the sheer outlandish gore. I was just discussing with my 75 year old Dad who also read the Destroyer series that the political satire throughout the series which sounded so far fetched actually has come to pass.

  2. Why not forget about fictional agents like Bond and Bourne dashing to save the world from disaster and forget about CIA and MI6 officers reclining on their couches dreaming up espionage scenarios to thrill you. Check out what a real MI6 and CIA secret agent does nowadays. Why not browse through TheBurlingtonFiles.org website and read about Bill Fairclough’s escapades when he was an active MI6 and CIA agent? The website is rather like an espionage museum without an admission fee … and no adverts. You will soon be immersed in a whole new world which you won’t want to exit.

    After that experience you may not know who to trust so best read Beyond Enkription, the first novel in The Burlington Files series. It’s a noir fact based spy thriller that may shock you. What is interesting is that this book is apparently mandatory reading in some countries’ intelligence agencies’ induction programs. Why? Maybe because the book is not only realistic but has been heralded by those who should know as “being up there with My Silent War by Kim Philby and No Other Choice by George Blake”. It is an enthralling read as long as you don’t expect fictional agents like Ian Fleming’s incredible 007 to save the world or John le Carré’s couch potato yet illustrious Smiley to send you to sleep with his delicate diction, sophisticated syntax and placid plots!

    See https://theburlingtonfiles.org/news_2023_06.07.php and https://theburlingtonfiles.org/news_2022.10.31.php.

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