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The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson

There's a relentless suspense sequence in the 1936 Alfred Hitchcock movie "Sabotage" that follows a boy who unknowingly carries a bomb through London. He boards a bus. Time ticks away. Seconds seem like hours. The bomb goes off. Hitch never let the audience off the hook. In retrospect, he felt it was a mistake. He was in the entertainment business and the audience reaction to being held hostage by the director's tricks was a downer. They felt as if they had been blown up. It was like losing a baseball game in an eleventh inning stretch. (Hitchcock didn't describe it that way but that's the way it is all the same.)

Sum of All Fears -- fire and ice

The same might be said for "The Sum of All Fears." But in today's world in the aftermath of September 11th, it's not just because the bomb goes off. It's because the bomb goes off and the filmmakers, screenwriter Paul Attanasio and director Phil Alden Robinson, never address the fate of the victims. As in "Sabotage," the bad guy(s) gets it in the end, but not before blowing a piece of civilization off the face of the earth. It's a given. With the loss of lives so high at a Super Bowl and the reality of the situation - a nuclear blast and its after effects - so palpable, is there anything left to find entertaining in this movie? If you're able to keep your emotions in check you might be able to appreciate the first rate espionage elements that precede it.

Sum of All Fears -- Morgan Freeman and Ben Affleck

A nuclear warhead lost by Israel in an earlier conflict is found, sold, and exported to some rich industrialists who target Baltimore in the hope that the U.S. will blame Russia and start a nuclear war. How they accomplish this and how Jack Ryan, the hero of "The Sum of All Fears," saves the world with a little help from his friends are the guts of author Tom Clancy's story. There are missing Russian scientists, moles at high levels of government, a new Russian Premiere (Ciaran Hinds) whose mettle is tested in the world arena, a President (James Cromwell) pulled on all sides by the conflicting advice of his Cabinet members, the CIA chief (Morgan Freeman) who must tread gently through the corridors of power, a descendant of a high ranking Nazi (Alan Bates), and Jack's girlfriend (Bridget Moynahan). The most interesting character by far is a CIA ghost (Lieve Schreiber) who goes globetrotting to find the missing pieces of the terrorist plot and bury the bodies.

Sum of All Fears -- party

Ben Affleck plays a younger Jack Ryan than in the previous dramatizations ("The Hunt for Red October" - "The Patriot Game" - "Clear and Present Danger") of author Tom Clancy's hero. "The Sum of All Fears" represents his first outing as a CIA operative. Affleck approaches the role as a novice who relies on others more experienced than himself to flex their muscle as the need arises. His Jack Ryan uses his knowledge as a historian and his skills at moving through Washington's back rooms for survival. It's a welcome relief to have a hero who uses mind over matter. The movie's biggest drawback is its pat ending. Jack and his lady will seemingly live happily ever after in the afterglow of world peace but the lack of some emotional recompense for the victims trivializes the depiction of the real life consequences of the terrorist attack. They are reduced to mere plot conventions that cheapen the audience's investment in their fates. -- Rating: $6.00

Two double threat films from director Phil Alden Robinson. He wrote the screenplays and directed the films.

"Field of Dreams" (1989) - Kevin Costner hears voices that tell him to build a baseball field on his property to bring Shoeless Joe Jackson, a victim of the Boston Black Sox scandal of 1919 (see "Eight Men Out" from director John Sayles), back to life for another chance. One of a kind film based on the best seller, Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella.

"Sneakers" (1992) - Good lightweight popcorn thriller about a high tech espionage team led by Robert Redford who are hung-out-to-dry while on a mission to steal a top secret black box.

Two top films from screenwriter Paul Attanasio.

"Quiz Show" (1994) - Dir. Robert Reford: This is the one about the quiz show scandals of the 1950's with Ralph Fiennes as Charles Van Doren, the media darling who was exposed for having the answers to the questions before show time. John Torturro is first rate as the working class stiff who spills the beans after succumbing to temptation and suffering the anguish of his decision.

"Donnie Brasco" (1997) - Dir. Mike Newell: Terrific character study of real life undercover cop Joe Pistone who becomes made under the protection of a low level mobster who comes to look upon him as a son. Johnny Depp and Al Pacino have never been better as the cop and the crook.

Greg Murray -- copyright 2002

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