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Clear and Present Danger: Special Edition

Clear and Present Danger (1994) marked Harrison Ford's second and final run at Tom Clancy's tough, principled CIA agent Jack Ryan, and though his casting was the continual cause of much dismay from fans of the books, it could be argued that the graying actor's age actually lent the character the charm of the underachiever. Visibly older than his peers by at least a decade or so, Ford's Ryan seems a bit of a late bloomer, a company hack who kicked around in lower-level positions before finding his true calling. Because of this, it's hard not to cheer for the guy as he gets treated with naked disrespect and outright animosity by National Security Advisor, James Cutter (Harris Yulin) and CIA Deputy Director Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny). If he bungles this assignment, and there's plenty of backstabbing behind the scenes to ensure that he does, it'll probably be the last major advancement opportunity for a man of his age. Clear and Present Danger returns most of the key talent from 1992's Patriot Games, including director Phillip Noyce, who, armed with a much better script this time out (courtesy of Donald Stewart, John Milius, and Steven Zaillian), delivers an efficiently condensed tale of Beltway betrayal and stealthy heroics set against the Latin American drug war. It's all put in motion when a wealthy businessman and friend to the American president (played here with an amusing mixture of savvy and mock aloofness by Donald Moffat) is massacred along with his family by the henchmen of Colombian drug lord Ernesto Escobedo (Miguel Sandoval). Furious at the kingpin's brutal temerity, and feeling political heat to score meaningful victories against his murderous "Cali Cartel," the President tacitly authorizes Cutter and Ritter to conceive a clandestine, and thoroughly illegal, Special Forces operation called "Reciprocity," aimed at delivering precisely what its title suggests. To get funding for their "little war," the administration sends an oblivious Ryan in front of a Congressional subcommittee to solemnly swear that there will be no unauthorized use of force at the very moment the insertion team is setting foot on Colombian soil. Should the operation go bad — and, of course, it will — Ryan will be the fall guy. Meanwhile, there's plenty of scheming going on in Escobedo's camp, as his chief intelligence officer Felix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida) is plotting the kingpin's overthrow by orchestrating the murder of the FBI Director, eventually finding himself in cahoots with Cutter when their own venal needs overlap. Pared down from a typically convoluted Clancy tome, Clear and Present Danger is a well above-average entry into the espionage genre thanks to Phillip Noyce's expert, intelligent handling of the film's action scenes. Particularly impressive is the now-classic "killing box" set piece in which the FBI Director's motorcade is ambushed in a Colombian back alley. It's a shot-by-shot clinic on how to shoot and edit action that should be studied by all aspiring filmmakers. Just as good is the sequence in which the Special Forces unit is wiped out by Cortez's mercenaries. Crosscut with the funeral of Ryan's mentor, Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones), it's an unusually affecting grace note in a film that rarely pauses to catch its breath. Performances are also top-notch across the board, with Czerny standing out as the slithery Ritter. Also fun is Willem Dafoe as the soldier of fortune Clark, who is either a crucial ally or a deadly enemy for the besieged Ryan. Paramount presents Clear and Present Danger: Special Edition in a crisp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks. For a "Special Edition," the extras are few and decidedly less than special, limited to a limp "Behind the Danger" featurette (26 min.), which boasts "new interviews" but provides mostly boring EPK insights; it also avoids recounting some bitter behind-the-scenes wrangling (Milius has since disowned his work here). Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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