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The Sum of All Fears

Much ado was made when Harrison Ford decided not to continue his role in the "Jack Ryan" films, but while the actor is a beloved A-lister, his decision probably was the right one. Besides, it's not as if Ford owns Jack Ryan — Alec Baldwin first took on the part in 1990's The Hunt for Red October, and Ford played him twice in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994). Thus, 2002's The Sum of All Fears (2002) marks the third casting change in just four movies. And with young Ben Affleck on the marquee, the franchise has taken a welcome turn, dismissing the previous films altogether and introducing us to a young, unmarried Jack Ryan courting his future wife Cathy Muller (Bridget Moynahan) while working the CIA's Russian desk as a low-level analyst. Loosely adapted from Tom Clancy's novel, the story begins with the surprise ascension of President Nemerov (Ciarán Hinds) to helm the Russian government. Little is known of him, but Ryan wrote a paper on the man a year earlier and finds himself suddenly working side-by-side with CIA Director Cabot (Morgan Freeman). Cabot and Ryan travel to Russia to participate in an arms-inspection, but Ryan quickly notices three key scientists are not to be found anywhere. It's only after the Russians unleash a chemical attack on Chechnya that things begin to spin out of control. Everyone from the president (James Cromwell) down believes Nemerov must be dealt with, while Ryan remains the lone voice who insists the new Russian president does not have control of his military forces. Concerned over the three missing nuclear scientists, Cabot dispatches CIA operative John Clark (Liev Schreiber) to Europe, but all are unaware that a devious plot is already underway to plant a nuclear device on U.S. soil. Considering that it's adapted from a novel that's as thick as a Christmas ham, The Sum of All Fears easily could have been a television miniseries — at times it is so packed with characters and details that keeping the players straight takes effort (a problem that is lessened on second viewing). But despite its epic source, screenwriters Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne do a creditable job of moving the story forward and never losing their footing. They also recapture what made Red October so special in the first place — Jack Ryan is an appealing character simply because he is not a superhero or a spy. He's a fairly regular guy with an academic job who suddenly finds himself in the middle of an international political crisis, giving the events a vicarious bit of fun. Affleck plays the part well, thanks to his youth, good looks, and earnest intensity. The supporting cast is likewise a welcome bunch — Morgan Freeman is a masterful authority figure, James Cromwell plays the President with a hot temper and humanist streak, and cabinet members include Phillip Baker Hall and Ron Rifkin. Amidst it all, there's plenty of hardware on display, from the smallest of gadgets to massive U.S. warbirds (including B2 bombers and the 747 the President boards during a nuclear crisis, all shot with cooperation from the U.S. Government). And fans of Clancy might enjoy another bit of recasting, as Liev Schreiber takes on the part of recurring CIA black-ops specialist John Clark — typically, Schreiber mines several humorous moments from his ruthless role ("I don't even have e-mail" he gripes as Ryan taps on a Palm Pilot). Paramount's DVD release of The Sum of All Fears offers a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround (French audio and English subtitles are also on board). Features include two complete commentary tracks, one with director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley, another with Robinson and Tom Clancy. This second track is a treat, as Clancy (who introduces himself as "the guy who wrote the book they ignored") offers plenty of interesting free-form facts and tales from his years of research. Also here are a featurette on the casting, which is packed with "luvvies" (12 min.), another featurette on the film's adaptation and production, which yields some good details (17 min.), five featurettes on visual-effects sequences for CGI buffs, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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