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Patriot Games (1992)

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Score: 8/10

Genre: Political Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: June 5th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Phillip Noyce Actors: Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Patrick Bergin, Sean Bean, Thora Birch, James Fox, Samuel L. Jackson, Polly Walker, James Earl Jones, Richard Harris


nlike James Bond, who oftentimes goes well out of his way to engage in perilous adventures, Jack Ryan tries to avoid it. But danger seems to gravitate toward the CIA agent naturally, ensuring some unwanted yet exciting peril. Fortunately, he’s no stranger to playing it tough – going so far as to pick up enemy weapons to use against them, which is a delightfully sensible maneuver that many movie heroes predictably fail to do. And in “Patriot Games,” one of the most solid action films to come out of Hollywood during the ‘90s, his hair-raising jeopardies effectively include mystery, suspense, and explosive stunts all at once, showing the more serious, balanced side to spy diversions. Author Tom Clancy’s unmistakable touch of stealthy espionage, triple-crosses, and covert operations makes “Patriot Games” comparable to Ryan’s previous vehicle, “The Hunt for Red October,” though this new episode is even more riveting.

Retired CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is vacationing in London with his wife (Anne Archer) and daughter (Thora Birch) when an IRA terrorist group attacks Lord Holmes (James Fox), a member of the royal family. Caught in the middle of the fracas, Ryan makes a split second decision to attack one of the army radicals. In the ensuing brawl, Holmes is saved, Ryan is wounded, Irish militant Sean Miller (Sean Bean) is captured, and Miller’s little brother Patrick is killed. Infuriated, Sean vows to avenge his sibling’s death as Ryan is scheduled to testify against the prisoner in court.

Largely dismissing the incident, Ryan and his family return home to the United States, only to be notified that an ultra-violent IRA faction has freed Miller during his transfer to an Albany prison. Ryan insists upon rejoining the CIA in order to stop the dangerous subversives, but he must also protect his family from Miller’s assassinative revenge schemes. The revolutionary possesses a particularly uncanny ability to strike with precision and secrecy, unaffected by the military defenses of the U.S. and British governments.

This time around, director Phillip Noyce (“Dead Calm” [1989], “Blind Fury” [1989]) takes over for John McTiernan, bringing with him the undisputable powerhouse of Harrison Ford – a far more charismatic actor than Alec Baldwin. While the first film focused on Sean Connery’s defector Ramius over Jack Ryan, “Patriot Games” chiefly follows the political and governmental angles of the CIA specialist, therefore making it far more important to cast the role with considerable talent. And supplementing the dependable newcomer are grandly realistic action sequences, though these are separated by an uncommon attention to detail for a thriller (establishing characters’ motives, jobs, backgrounds, and relationships), which will certainly contribute to a level of impatience for anyone unfamiliar with the calculating pacing of the former theatrical storyline.

From start to finish, “Patriot Games” is essentially a chase movie, suffused with mysteries and nerve-wracking anticipation as Ryan and Miller frequently switch their roles of hunter and prey. But it’s not an out-and-out action film, notably taking time for character development and familiarities for the various opponents and combatants. The film reserves screentime for tracking enemy movements, brooding over traitors, forecasting betrayals, and watching as soldiers in night vision goggles descend upon Ryan’s house – all staples of a Tom Clancy novel. The original music by James Horner (here, quite reminiscent of “Aliens”) nicely complements the mood, with eerie violins that constantly contrast serenity with sudden violence. It’s all very grave and almost completely devoid of comic relief. More modern than its predecessor and certainly more intense (“Patriot Games” garnered an R rating as opposed to “The Hunt for Red October’s” PG), this competent follow-up is, almost inarguably, the best Jack Ryan entry of the series (followed by “Clear and Present Danger” [1994] and “The Sum of All Fears” [2002]).

– Mike Massie



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