Part of the magic of movies is the way they make us not just willing – even eager to suspend all kinds of disbelief. It isn’t just that we are willing to believe that Jet Li can knock out a guy with one kick or that Harry Potter can soar through a Quidditch match on his broomstick – we want to. That’s part of what movies are for.
And we have lived through five different actors asking for martinis that are shaken, not stirred, as James Bond – so far. So I don’t think audiences will have any problem accepting the fact that Russia analyst Jack Ryan of the CIA, played by 50-something Harrison Ford in two previous films set in the 1990’s based on Tom Clancy novels (and Alec Baldwin in a third) has now lost some thirty years and turned into Ben Affleck. There may not be much suspense in the love story – we already know who Jack Ryan marries – but that isn’t what the movie is about.
What it is about is a new Russian president. The U.S. is concerned that he is a hard-liner. Ryan believes that he is only trying to sound tough to get the support of hard-liners in the Russian government. U.S. officials get even more concerned when Chechnya is hit with chemical weapons. And then the U.S. is attacked with an atomic bomb and it seems that America’s only choice is to retaliate. It is up to Jack Ryan to save the world.
The movie is ably done, a big time Hollywood production with big time actors (Morgan Freeman as the head of the CIA, James Cromwell as the U.S. President), and big time special effects. Everything is very professional. But as easy as it is to settle back with our popcorn and adjust our notion of a Jack Ryan of the 21st century, there are some parts of the story that are so hard to accept that they seem to violate the covenant between the audience and mainstream movies. There is a level of destruction that might be acceptable in a book but feels excessive to the point of pornography on screen, even more so in an era of suicide bombings and terrorism. The fact that the bad guys in this movie are so much less scary than the ones on the news adds to the sense that the story is more about sensation than about sense. And the ultimate resolution does not feel either ultimate or resolved. Movies like these need interesting villains and satisfying conclusions. Like people who make roller coasters, they need to strike a balance between making us pleasantly dizzy and making us sick. On that scale and at this time, this movie does not work.
Parents should know that the movie has a lot of graphic violence and destruction of unimaginable proportions. There is prolonged, intense peril and characters die. Characters use very strong language, drink and smoke. There is a non-graphic sexual situation.
Families who see this movie should talk about how people at any level, from heads of state to siblings, learn to trust one another.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Jack Ryan movies (and the other Jack Ryans), especially “The Hunt for Red October” and “Patriot Games.” Two other movies, both made in 1964, dealt with the prospect of an accidental missile attack by the U.S. on Russia and both are worth watching. One is the thoughtful drama “Failsafe” and the other is the unforgettable classic, “Dr. Strangelove.”