The Comforting, Unpretentious and Ultimate Legacy of ‘Patriot Games’ (1992)
Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan serves up an ultimate helping of action movie comfort food.
The plot is adapted from the Tom Clancy novel of the same name. Ex-CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Ford) thwarts an attempted kidnapping of English royalty by IRA members, killing one of the younger members during the attack. The fallen member’s older brother Sean Miller (Sean Bean) swears vengeance on Ryan and his own, escaping from the police and going across the Atlantic in hopes of taking his anger out on Ryan’s wife Cathy (Anne Archer) and daughter Sally (Thora Birch). Now Ryan must come out of retirement in order to protect his family from a pack of terrorists.
Clancy was unhappy with the script, which deviated from his source novel a great deal, mostly in how much political nuance was stripped clean from the narrative bones. However, I believe in judging an adaptation on its own merits and as a standalone film, Patriot Games works pretty well, even if it stretches some credulity here and there.
Was Harrison Ford the Most Ultimate Jack Ryan?
Harrison Ford’s defining roles will always be Han Solo and Indiana Jones, but in the 1990s, he played his fair share of action heroes in more grounded settings. Jack Ryan was one of his major 1990s roles (he would reprise the part in 1994’s Clear and Present Danger) and he fits the demands of the role well.
While Ford was no spring chicken, he’s credible as an ass-kicking analyst. As in the Indiana Jones movies, Ford radiates both intelligent strength and vulnerability. He can hold his own in a battle but he isn’t invincible to a ridiculous degree. Ford’s age also lends the character a sense of world-weariness, a quality works quite well contrasted with Sean Bean’s impetuous young radical.
Sean Bean and Anne Archer
While some reviewers have complained about Miller lacking depth, Bean’s performance endows the character menace and intensity, even if his accent is a bit weak. His one-track mind arguably makes him even more frightening as well: the moment Ryan kills his brother, his persistence in making Ryan pay ramp up the suspense big time.
The supporting cast is in fine form across the board. Anne Archer is sympathetic and strong as Cathy, more than able to hold her own when things go wrong. James Earl Jones is great as always, reprising his role from this film’s predecessor, The Hunt for Red October. Also notable are a pre-Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson and the legendary Richard Harris.
Action Trumps Plot
Fine acting aside, I wouldn’t call the plot of Patriot Games airtight. One has to wonder how Miller and friends were able to scrounge up the resources they have to go stalking the Ryans across the ocean. One might also wonder why Ryan would want to stay in a rather isolated beach house by the sea when a group of trigger-happy terrorists are coming after his family—other than it makes the final assault on the family all the more dramatic.
The action is pretty great though, more than compensating for small implausible moments. The best parts come in at the end, with a creepy home invasion sequence shot with almost horror film intensity, and a brilliantly shot and choreographed fight on a speedboat. The boat fight is visceral and terrifying, the struggle between Ryan and Miller made all the more effective due to the combination of shadowy lighting, fast editing, and the late James Horner’s score (itself quite underrated, both haunting and heart-pounding).
Patriot Games doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but it’s cinematic comfort food for the ultimate action fan. I would recommend giving it a rental if you haven’t seen it.
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