johnlink ranks PATRIOT GAMES (1992)

This film marks the debut of Harrison Ford playing a former government operative who later becomes a professor before being launched back into an adventure. Oh wait. There was that whole INDIANA JONES thing. Well, this film marks the debut of Harrison Ford playing a former government operative named Jack Ryan who later becomes a professor before being launched back into action.

I watched PATRIOT GAMES (1992) on 7.28.12. It’s roughly my sixth viewing of the film, and first in seven or eight years.

While the film HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER was a large-scale international incident, PATRIOT GAMES is a more personal film. And whereas Jack Ryan was the second largest character in OCTOBER, there is no denying he is the main focus of this second film. Alec Baldwin was offered the role, but eventually turned it down to work on Broadway. The character was then offered to Harrison Ford (who turned down RED OCTOBER because, well, Jack Ryan was too small a part). Ford grabbed the mantle and, as far as I am concerned, became the face which first comes to mind when someone mentions Jack Ryan.

Set some time after the events of RED OCTOBER, Ryan has left the CIA for a much lower impact job as a professor of history at the Naval Academy. He witnesses a kidnapping attempt while on vacation in London, intervenes, and gets one of the attackers (Sean Bean) really pissed. Bean’s IRA operative Sean Miller takes it personally, and starts gunning for Ryan back home in the states. This is a film which reverses the normal formula. Instead of starting small and getting large, this movie starts as an international operation and shrinks itself down into a small arms attack on Ryan’s house. It’s an interesting and fresh take on the genre, and its a plan which works to great effect.

The handling of the IRA is not gentle. They are portrayed as having a cause in order to be violent, rather than seeming to be forced into violence because of their cause. The head of the IRA talks of honor and never selling out an Irishman, until he decides that he needs to. They fight among themselves, lack organization, have no discipline, and put themselves ahead of the mission. I’m not an expert on ‘The Troubles’, as the conflict in Northern Ireland has come to be known, but this film has no room for a nuanced discussion about the origins or reasons for the conflict. This does not affect my enjoyment of the film now, a decade and a half removed from the Good Friday Agreement, but I understand some people had a real problem with this film when it came out. PATRIOT GAMES was called “fascistic, blatantly anti-Irish… a right-wing cartoon” by Variety magazine. I’m about the farthest thing from a right-wing activist you’ll find, but I don’t have a problem with this movie.

Regardless of any outside commentary, this is a solidly directed action flick with more brains than your standard issue genre film. Ford is excellent, even if he doesn’t have to ‘act’ per se. Samuel L. Jackson and James Earl Jones provide nice support. Anne Archer and a very young Thora Birch play Ryan’s wife and daughter, respectively. The three-person family creates immediate chemistry, immediate charm. When Ryan’s daughter is hurt and he gets angry, it’s easy to believe. We don’t get the sense of an action junky who is itching to get back into the fray, but rather a family man who will do whatever he has to in order to protect his family. Sean Bean is just vicious as Sean Miller. Truly evil role.

There are some wasted characters in this. The film doesn’t know what to do with two of its three villains at the end of the film, and the climax feels tacked on. But even a tacked on climax is better than what a lot of this film’s cousins do. Like RED OCTOBER, this is a movie which has aged nicely. It doesn’t feel like a cheesy 80s picture, it has more integrity than that. There is, however, a scene involving some people in Washington viewing a military strike via satellite. It’s a scene which I imagine had a huge impact in 1992, but which feels mundane with the more we know about how military strikes work. Heck, these days there wouldn’t even be real people on the ground. We’d just have a scene of the camp in question exploding.

This is a good movie. Had the Ireland-based subject matter been handled with a little more delicacy, this might have been a classic. Instead, it will settle for being an oft-forgotten dramatic action film with fairly high entertainment value.





~ by johnlink00 on July 29, 2012.

One Response to “johnlink ranks PATRIOT GAMES (1992)”

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