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Review: The Sum of All Fears

Watched The Sum of All Fears tonight. A surprisingly good movie, at least if you don't care about being true to the book. I haven't read the book (or, indeed, any Clancy), so that didn't bother me at all, but apparently many true Clancy fans hate this movie. (I get the impression Clancy himself didn't think much of it either. The commentary track that features Clancy talking with the movie's director is a little weird—throughout the first couple of scenes (which was as much as I could take of it—Clancy's kinda full of himself), Clancy incessantly points out all the factual errors. Apparently pretty much everything in the movie is just plain wrong. Oh, well; it's a well-done movie if you don't know how much of it is wrong.)

The movie managed to surprise me at least twice, and even managed to be fairly moving a couple of times. True, it's blatantly emotionally manipulative, over and over again; but it does the manipulation well enough that it didn't bother me.

The movie is much more interesting than the other two Jack Ryan movies I've seen. It's wildly implausible in a couple of ways, notably in the notion that Ryan personally performs most of the important actions in the movie, but if you accept the idea that Ryan is cosmically fated to be a Hero, most of the rest of the movie works pretty well.

Hrm. I seem to be damning with faint praise here. So I'll say some unadulterated good things. For example, the story is taut and tense and engaging; the characters are likable; the movie is surprisingly funny in a lot of places. I think I liked it more than I would have had it been released before 9/11; real life has added a certain resonance to this thriller about terrorists with a nuke.

The acting is mostly good, with a couple of particular standouts. James Cromwell adds yet another role to his remarkable range; I continue to be impressed with his versatility. Farmer in Babe; Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact; police captain in L.A. Confidential. Remarkable. Until tonight I didn't know that he was an American; I figured he'd just put on a good American accent in various movies. But no, the accent in Babe is what was fake.

Anyway, The Sum of All Fears is not a brilliant movie by any means; it doesn't transcend its genre, at least not by much. But definitely worth seeing if you like this sort of thing. A thriller with characters you can care about is pretty rare.

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