The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Patriot Games

At the time, I'm sure it sounded like a good Alec Baldwin at least.  After starring as Tom Clancy hero Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October, Baldwin was all ready to come back for a second go-around in 1992's Patriot Games.  For whatever reason, Baldwin decided to do the play he'd signed up for, and the role went to Han Solo/Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford.  Looking back 18 years later, it seems like an easy decision to pick which actor made the right choice.  Ford went on to star in Clear and Present Danger and is still a huge star while Baldwin has really only recently recovered with a bit of a rebirth thanks to 30 Rock and a list of supporting performances in quality movies.

As for Ford in Patriot Games, he's the one that has become synonymous with the part of Jack Ryan.  Yes, I'm remembering Ben Affleck took over the part in Sum of All Fears.  Where Ryan was a key character in 'Red October,' he wasn't the most important part, but with Patriot Games we get more of a look at the character as opposed to the action.  The making of special feature has interviews with several members of the movie, all who bristle to one extent or another when asked if 'PG' is an action movie.   It does have its fair share of action, but a character study with some action thrown in is more applicable.  I love Red October and Present Danger is a near-classic so Patriot Games had its work cut out and lived up to the expectations.

While vacationing in London, former CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Ford) stumbles into an assassination attempt on a member of the Royal family.  In the blink of an eye, he reacts, killing two assassins and capturing a third, Sean Miller (Sean Bean).  The royal family is saved, and Ryan even testifies in court about the attempt and his involvement in stopping the murder.  Ryan and his wife Cathy (Anne Archer) and daughter Sally (Thora Birch) return home thinking everything is behind them. Not so fast, because Miller escapes during transit and rejoins the fanatical members of this IRA splinter group.  Headed by Kevin O'Connell (Patrick Bergin), the group still has their sites set on the Royal family, and for Miller especially, he wants revenge on Ryan because one of the men he killed was Sean's younger brother.  But after an attempt is made on his family's lives, Ryan goes on the offensive.

With two of the most successful franchises under his belt -- Star Wars and Indiana Jones -- Ford was about as bankable a star as existed in 1992.  Sometimes I think he's judged more as a star than an actor, but the man can act plain and simple.  Playing a character like Jack Ryan, he gets a chance to show off those chops in a story that doesn't rely on fantasy settings and 1930s-esque cliffhangers.  Ford's Ryan is a family man always looking out for his wife and daugther who teaches classes at the Naval Academy in Annapolis who's left his CIA past (as a desk jockey) behind him.  His confrontation with IRA rep Richard Harris is so sublimely perfect (watch it HERE) in showing though that he is not a man to be trifled with.  Ford handles the action nicely -- doing most of his own stunts -- but balances it out with some very emotional scenes with his family.  Archer and Birch round out the family, and the trio have a definite chemistry together that would continue into Clear and Present Danger.

British actor Sean Bean is at his best when he's playing a villain, and this is him at his absolute best.  He's beyond creepy in his devotion to the cause and seeking revenge for his brother's death (which he had a hand in causing but blames others, go figure).  His Miller drifts in and out of the story, and whether intentional or not, it works well because he's a presence lurking and waiting to attack.  Bergin and Polly Walker are the more even-keeled but still deadly members of the splinter group.  The rest of the cast isn't given a ton to do, but the names alone make this appealing.   Harris makes the most of a small part as does Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, and  James Fox. Would it have been nice to see more of these great actors?  Sure, but the focus of the story is Ryan vs. Miller and other backstories would have been unnecessary in this really tight, wel-told story.

Patriot Games does have some great action, including a tension-filled chase through Annapolis and on a nearby freeway, that is highlighted by the end as the IRA splinter group descends on a darkened Ryan household after the power's been pulled.  This isn't enough though with the action really ramping up after they leave the house.  Great ending with a fitting end for several characters.  The coolest part though puts a new spin on the action scene.  Ryan and some fellow CIA associates watch an SAS attack on a terrorist camp in North Africa via satellite imagery.  So instead of hearing the gunshots and seeing explosions, we see these eerie colors and shapes being thrown around, one analyst matter of factly stating 'That's a kill.'  It's an incredible sequence and surprisingly moving as Ryan sees the affect his investigation has had.  He was always looking to protect his family, but seeing it via satellite thousands of miles away, it's a haunting experience.

Coming from a Tom Clancy novel, you know you're getting a high quality, very professional movie.  Director Phillip Noyce films on location in London with some dreary looking English locations adding some mood, and then films in Annapolis itself which always translates well to the screen.  It's a beautiful campus, and it would be hard to mess up those locations.  Composer James Horner's score is not his strongest, but the soundtrack is at its best in its Irish themes.  I didn't love the movie, but I did really enjoy it.  Not quite as good as Red October but right on par with Clear and Present Danger, and that's not a bad thing.

Patriot Games <----trailer (1992): ***/****

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