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THE SUM OF ALL FEARS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates, Philip Baker Hall, Ron Rifkin, Bruce McGill
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 123 Minutes
Release Date: October 29, 2002

“What are three Russian atomic scientists doing in Ukraine?”

“Fair guess, they’re building a bomb.”

Film ***1/2

The Sum of All Fears is one thriller that will shake up just about anyone who watches it. At the center of this terrorist thriller is a horrific terrorist attack on American soil. Having been through the horrors of 9/11, it’s hard not to be scared and shaken up by a film of this nature. Had this movie been released a few years back, it could be enjoyed just as a simple popcorn thriller, but its release time is a significant one, as this movie can easily be depicting what this country has, or might be, going through soon. At the same time, the movie began production before the fateful date.

Based on the hugely popular 1991 novel of the same name by Tom Clancy, the movie stars Ben Affleck in the role of CIA analyst Jack Ryan, a character that has been portrayed by both Alec Baldwin in The Hunt For Red October and Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Affleck, of course, is a much younger actor, and even though the original novel was written long after the aforementioned Clancy novels, the story has been reinvented as an early stage in Ryan’s career, thus making Affleck a more than suitable choice for the part.

Ryan is not a heroic warrior like most CIA agents in the movies; his simply writes reports and delivers information. His expertise of the newly elected president of Russia garners the attention of CIA boss Bill Cabot (Morgan Freeman), who then recruits Ryan to assist him on a visit to a Russian nuclear research facility. During the visit, Ryan discovers a strange notion; with seventeen scientists supposedly on duty, he counts only fourteen, meaning three scientists have disappeared. With his suspicions rising, Cabot assigns agency operative John Clark (Liev Schrieber) to locate the missing scientists.

We soon learn that the missing nuclear scientists are co-conspiring with a sinister South African arms dealer who has discovered a nuclear warhead in the African desert. The arms dealer and the scientists redesign the warhead as a nuclear bomb, which he sells on the black market to a neo-Fascist named Dressler (Alan Bates) who intends to do nothing short of reinventing World War II by delivering the bomb to America in order to start a rage of nuclear war against America and Russia. The question is where? When Ryan discovers where the bomb is at, which is in an unspecified location at the Super Bowl, where the President (James Cromwell) is attending.

What makes The Sum of All Fears so incredibly engaging, terrifying and pulse-pounding is the ingenious way the director and screenwriters crank up the never-ending tension in the build up to the unnerving bomb detonation sequence, done with some astonishing and scary visual effects. By delivering parallel stories with events going down in Washington, Russia, and South Africa, the suspense builds up enormously leading up to the devastating explosion. What follows is nail biting tension between America and Russia, who are on the brink of nuclear war when the U.S. suspects mother Russia of the bombing. It’s up to Ryan, who knows Russia is completely innocent, to deliver the right information to the President before he makes a tragic mistake.

The Sum of All Fears is definitely one of the very best Tom Clancy movie adaptations. I would probably rank it second next to my longtime favorite, Clear and Present Danger. It’s simply hard not to get swept up in the whirlwind of suspense this movie delivers.

Video ****

The Sum of All Fears is also a big movie in its look and scope, and with that Paramount has delivered a flat out wonderfully looking disc, which goes on record as one of the studio’s best to date. The anamorphic picture is simply stunning the whole way through, and the work of cinematographer John Lindley, who adds a distinctive saturated look to the movie in scenes following the explosion scene, come off as nothing short of outstanding. Surely, one of the best looking discs of the year.

Audio ****

Yet another dose of 5.1 audio brilliance from Paramount. There is actually very limited action in this movie. However, the big bombing sequence alone is a perfect moment to demonstrate how good your sound system really is. Apart from that, the sound quality is very brutally effective, and helps to elevate the tension of the movie even more. Credit veteran music maestro Jerry Goldsmith for delivering yet another theatrical quality score that soars in this presentation all the way!

Features ****

Paramount is showing signs of returning to their Special Collector’s Edition roots with this release, and for that I congratulate them very much. Included on this disc are two commentary tracks, one with director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley, and one with Robinson and novelist Tom Clancy. Also featured are two very in-depth documentaries; “The Making of The Sum of All Fears” and “Creating Reality: the Visual Effects of The Sum of All Fears”. A trailer is also included.

Summary:

The Sum of All Fears is a grand slam of a suspense thriller, and although it may be a little too hard to view in post 9/11, the overall movie is sure to make viewers cheer by its end.