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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.67%
Worth A Look35.78%
Average: 27.52%
Pretty Bad: 18.35%
Total Crap: 14.68%

8 reviews, 61 user ratings

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Sum of All Fears, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Undistinguished yet Entertaining."
3 stars

While it's not exactly a classic, it'll do.

The Sum of All Fears doesn't have enough going for it in the way of imaginative writing, directing, and acting to make it anything worthy of high praise, yet it isn't bad, either. It's passable entertainment that's neither boring nor overly ludicrous, and its only real unforgivable flaw is in the filmmakers' innate desire to spell everything out for the audience. For an action adventure that spans several continents and involves a rogue madman's intent to detonate a massive bomb on American soil, the story components are blandly rendered, like a recipe dictated to a chef from a Norman Rockwell-esque holiday cookbook. The plot lacks surprise and the sequences lack tension because we pretty much know where everything's headed; the scenes preceding the revelations have already divulged them to us, so we're always a good step or two ahead of the hero -- a big, big mistake in any thriller. And the characters don't really mean anything to us like they should; we're more or less witnessing stereotypes going through the same old motions and saying the same old things to one another. The Sum of All Fears makes for the ultimate multiplex viewing: all generic context with virtually no subtext. Still, it manages to grip more often than not, and even when some of the sequences peter out and the director, Phil Alden Robinson, can't seem to keep track of the labyrinth plot in a crisp, streamlined narrative, the acute editing, vivid performances, and helplessly intriguing story help validate our interest.

Ben Affleck headlines a grade-A cast as CIA historian Jack Ryan, who's transformed from desk jockey to field operative when a disgruntled Austrian megalomaniac by the name of Dressler (a delicious Alan Bates) gets his hands on an Israeli atomic bomb discovered during an archeological dig and plans to use it to spark a war between the United States and Russia. The Soviet Union's president has just suffered a fatal heart attack, and Ryan is summoned from his existence of files and paper clips by the DCI (a good-natured Morgan Freeman) to provide first-hand intelligence on the background of the president's replacement (whom he wrote a paper on the previous year). Ryan sees him as a non-threat, but when a couple of disgruntled Russian militarists take it upon themselves to invade Chechnya (an action derided by the U.S.), the new president (who didn't give the order) accepts responsibility for it so as to be seen as guilty but in-command rather than innocent yet misinformed. This, of course, makes the U.S. President (a feisty James Cromwell) quite nervous, and he sends over a weapons-inspection team to Russia, where it's discovered that three of the seventeen nuclear scientists have gone missing (even from under the noses of their Soviet superiors). The initial reaction is that the Soviets are planning a nuclear strike against the U.S., but Ryan sticks to his knowledge in proclaiming that it's someone else making it just look that way.

Affleck is handsome, he knows his lines and isn't afraid of looking his co-stars directly in the eye, but I'm afraid he isn't as convincing in his part as Alec Baldwin was as Ryan in 1990's The Hunt for Red October, though he's an improvement over Harrison Ford's stodgy interpretation in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Affleck will forever me a movie star first and an actor second, and this is because he simply has no depth as an actor; he's a charismatic performer who's never more than adequate but whose adequateness manages, though, to fulfill functional leading-man requirements in formulaic fare such as this and the recent Changing Lanes (where he was actually quite touching). Ryan isn't a man of much mystery here, yet this serves as more of a benefit than a deterrent due to the plasticity and limited arc of the story -- a more substantial character of depth would be at cross-purposes with the material, pointing up its flaws and emphasizing its shallowness (as the unsurpassable Vincent D'Ofronio does every week in the tv series Law and Order: Criminal Intent). Affleck isn't self-absorbed -- there's an honest intent to get inside the character -- and it's this -- his desire to dramatically convince on the screen -- that makes Ryan go over reasonably well with us -- Affleck's aspirations as a valid thespian collate well with a character trying to live up to expectations put upon him by his high-ranking superiors.

And it's a good thing Affleck is there reminding us not to take matters too seriously in light of the dubious plot holes and high implausibility factors that permeate the surroundings like the Black Plague. I'm not implying that an international tryst like the one presented here couldn't conceivably happen, but simply that Tom Clancy (who wrote the same-name novel) and Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne (who did the adaptation) have relied too much on coincidence and convenience in providing a catalytic motor to support and further the story. When Ryan desperately needs to get in contact with the President, all of the phone lines on Air Force One just happen to be busy, and when he later needs to be someplace in a hurry, he crashes his transport while taking his eyes off the road to read a Palm Pilot. (During instances such as these, I thought to myself that a Contrivance Clown was a whole lot more a lethal force than the terrorists.) And to further sweeten the pot for dumbed-down audiences, Ryan is even given a wholesome, worrywart of a girlfriend (the admittedly lovely Bridget Moynahan) to be put in jeopardy later down the line. You're given too many opportunities to think how much simpler things could have worked out had the story adhered to a realistic basis rather than a Movieland one.

But The Sum of All Fears isn't a complete waste. Even when you're not totally buying into it, you're still likely to be held. The story is a grabber, and, contrary to a lot of films of its ilk (like the deplorable, similarly-themed Bad Company), it has a noble respect for the value of human life. There's hardly any onscreen violence -- the imminent threat of it is what's emphasized -- and it doesn't need it. The filmmakers assume that audiences possess a conscience for the consequences of death, so the mere implications of it are enough to rattle us when the promise of it is near. The film isn't devoid of carnage, but the presenting of it is a lot more subdued than one would expect from a big-budget Hollywood venture. While one could argue that the catastrophic detonation of a device in a massively attended public venue is shameless, then at least it should be countered that the aftermath of its ensuing destruction -- the devastated reactions of its survivors, mostly -- is what's presented front and center, and not the carnage. The true violence is what's embodied in the characters' natures, whether it's that of the dastardly Dressler, or the cold-hearted but stalwart actions of a shadowy U.S. undercover operative (played by the superb Liev Schreiber, contributing the film's best performance). And even when director Robinson fails to percolate the tension in the talking-heads scenes in the American war room (something Roger Donaldson masterfully accomplished in the astounding Thirteen Days) he manages to catch the tailend of the compelling aspects to them (like how war hawks and doves can be fretting away the fate of mankind in the guise of their well-pressed suits and uniforms). Only an idiot could have botched this task, and, luckily, Robinson isn't one -- though he could have tightened the screws a bit more so the overall whole didn't come off as lumpy and protracted as his uneven handling of 1992's mediocre Sneakers.

The Sum of All Fears is what it is, and, for the most part, that's perfectly acceptable. It's an OK film that's more recommendable than it is non-recommendable, less impressive than we'd like yet not nearly as reprehensible as we've grown accustomed to expect. If this doesn't exactly come across as praise than it at least it isn't an all-out bashing; you can semi-respect it without wholeheartedly liking or even remotely admiring it. It's strictly middle-of-the-road entertainment that's like good wallpaper: it neither entices nor repels -- which, in this depressing age of sub-standard filmmaking, is actually a bit above-par for the course.

It's at least better than "Bad Company."

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originally posted: 01/17/03 02:32:44
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User Comments

1/24/11 JM Synth Deathly Dull. Too dry to be any fun, too silly and thin to be anything substantial 1 stars
1/11/07 Ole Man Bourbon I know that I saw "Sum of All Farts," but I can't remember a single thing about it. 1 stars
2/14/06 R.W.Welch Okay plot and execution though Affleck is no H. Ford. 3 stars
2/13/06 Anthony The Highlight of this film is the credits 1 stars
8/17/05 ES 'Hey let's ruin the upstanding line of Jack Ryan movies by adding Affleck!'= ok! 1 stars
3/25/05 me Being a reader of Clancy, I was severely underwhelmed by this, but the book was merely okay 2 stars
3/22/05 Landshark blows hard, thankfully the young Jack Ryan era is a short one 1 stars
3/16/05 R.W. Welch Somehow this stuff doesn't quite work without H. Ford. 3 stars
2/22/05 Captain Craig A good spy flic. Especially if you like Ben. 4 stars
10/29/04 Theresa Wagner Making Jack Ryan younger was a mistake but it shows where he got his start. It's an ok movi 3 stars
7/06/04 patrick Affleck lousy, thumbs up 4 Freeman,Mcgill 4 stars
5/31/04 Nobody If it weren't for Affleck's terrible acting, might have been good. 2 stars
6/26/03 cochese Unrealistic. I hate Affleck, but I tolerated him in this one. 4 stars
6/23/03 Jim Improves on the book, which was good but meandering 4 stars
6/03/03 spacecowboy The last 15 minutes were absolutely beautiful. 4 stars
3/17/03 G-man last 45 minutes- awsome, but no good in first hour 4 stars
1/17/03 y2mckay mediocre adaptation of the novel, Ben Affleck the weakest link as usual. 2 stars
12/02/02 Elizaveta Good riveting story - puts the Sept. 11 stuff into perspective 4 stars
11/18/02 Spanky what a letdown. never said "yeah right" so much in a movie 2 stars
11/17/02 snowconehead The book it ain't, but at least there was some nazis died 4 stars
10/29/02 Natalie Stonecipher Good overall edge-of-seat thriller; some subplots incomprehensibly contorted. 4 stars
10/08/02 3man Unrealistic and a lame ending. 2 stars
9/28/02 Digi just not thrill enuf 3 stars
9/27/02 John McNew A bit convoluted, but undeniably effective 4 stars
9/09/02 Monster W. Kung Decent storyline, lame "feel good" ending, too much mumbo-jumbo moralizing. 2 stars
9/08/02 viking Tom Clancy's novel was chilling. This borders on the ridiculous 3 stars
8/18/02 mickey The Jews of Hollywood strike again. This film is utter rubbish. 1 stars
8/06/02 sarahfar88 Jurg is right , they had Bush in mind when they wrote the part for Fowler, go read the book 2 stars
8/05/02 Jurg As unbelievable as flying pigs, as politically correct as the Bush-administration. Crap! 1 stars
7/23/02 Bueller At least Morgan Freeman is making better script decisions since "Hard Rain". 3 stars
7/05/02 Jethro Twenty Cornflake Good stuff when the bomb explodes but mostly dull and contrived. 3 stars
7/01/02 Darrell A real snoozer with very little action. This one will be out on video REAL soon! 1 stars
7/01/02 Michael The explosion scene is awesome!! Ben Affleck and Morgan Freemen were great together. 4 stars
6/29/02 robsv Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan... What's next? Matt Damon as Indiana Jones? 1 stars
6/27/02 Girl 9 Only TWO HOURS TOO LONG!! Only a bit better than crappy. 3 stars
6/22/02 Stephen Hubbard One of the worst scripts I've ever had to sit through. I actually walked out be4 the end! 1 stars
6/22/02 Kever This movie is a fucking can of cat piss. 1 stars
6/14/02 spaceworm Cigarette machines? In a stadium? Since when? 4 stars
6/14/02 TJ Good action flick, but much unbelievable BS. Survive shock of nuclear blast?! 3 stars
6/13/02 frosty Del, you're retarded. Look up the definition of terrorist. 4 stars
6/13/02 Del Give me a break... the real terrorists aren't Neo-Nazis... what bullshit 1 stars
6/13/02 Andy Propaganda bullshit but an ok flick… Nice cinematography. 3 stars
6/13/02 bob Better than some other recent movies 4 stars
6/12/02 FrayLo it's a political thriller, so don't go expecting bond style action 4 stars
6/11/02 Obi Wan Another fine Clancy showing!! I would like to see a movie on Clark w/Schreiber! 5 stars
6/09/02 Jason Taylor This movie rocks! You clowns are doing a relative comparison instead of an absolute one! 5 stars
6/08/02 Viper First half was good, the plot really builds up, then falls apart in the second half. 4 stars
6/07/02 I/O Error Besides from Affleck's less than phenomenal performance, well worth watching. 4 stars
6/07/02 Kyle Here's a nice piece of shit! 1 stars
6/05/02 Todd Pollard Well made adventure 5 stars
6/05/02 Mortis Good if not better than HRO - Looks like the Affleck haters are jealous-poor ugly guys 4 stars
6/05/02 cleansparks I could have done without the pointless romance, but otherwise well done 4 stars
6/04/02 Nick2k alright. not intense like the other. what's with the chronology of these movies though? 3 stars
6/04/02 David A. Intelligent espionage movie. The most exciting part is the depiction of a nuclear explosion 4 stars
6/04/02 Film Dude I refuse to see another Ben Affleck movie as long as I live. Pearl Harbor, now this... 1 stars
6/04/02 Film Guy Messy movie. Ben affleck what where you thinking 1 stars
6/04/02 Blackops does not follow the book, and its Ben Affleck, need i say more. 2 stars
6/04/02 Brad Moynahan Fantastic 5 stars
6/03/02 strider3700 I've seen far worse shit this year. Affleck doesn't even completely suck like normal 4 stars
6/01/02 Kriperace Why did the ragheads get turned into neo-Nazis? 3 stars
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  31-May-2002 (PG-13)



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