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Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse for Mr. Jack Ryan, the poor fella finds himself in yet another scrape with bad guys from another country. But what starts off as a simple little anti-drug campaign quickly swirls out of Jack’s control, and he discovers that the real enemy may be from within his own government.

Clear and Present Danger
Clear and Present Danger gets almost as much television play as Patriot Games, and catching them in sections on odd weekends has led me to often forget which film is which. The two films were conceived and written at almost the same time, share many of the same actors, the same producers, the same writers (plus John Milius), the same composer, the same director of photography, the same editor, and the same director. One can understand my confusion. The big differences are the location (this time Jack goes to Latin America), the direct involvement of higher members of the government (like the President, who gets a proper tongue lashing), the larger B-story not involving villains (I think even the most liberal among us wouldn’t call Willem Dafoe and his army buddies villains), and James Earl Jones’ sickness.

Danger has the more intricate plot and the steadier director’s hand, but it doesn’t feature the visceral excitement or wrenching family drama of Patriot Games, at least not for me, save maybe the rocket launcher scene. Patriot Games is sloppy in parts, sure, but cleanliness and meticulous manner in which Danger is presented ends up amounting to too much of a ‘good thing’. There’s simply too much stuff happening, too much story (a pretty convoluted one at that), too many characters, and not enough gut punch. Red October and Patriot Games (and to a lesser extent Sum of All Fears) also have a sparser pace. There was no point here where I wasn’t very aware of how long the film felt.

Clear and Present Danger
I do appreciate the generally cynical feel of the plot, which considering Clancy and Milius’ personalities is a little surprising, though I suppose one must consider that  the film was made during the Clinton administration (though written in response to Iran/Contra, hmm). Actually, not so far beneath the surface story one might be able to read a political conservative’s take on the covert way the Clinton administration waged war without consequences for two terms. I don’t think we’d see a mainstream Hollywood movie featuring such blatantly corruptible (and practically idiotic) U.S. President in this era (save documentaries, zing!). There are exciting shades of grey all through the conflict, including the actions of the good guys and bad guys. As in the case of   Patriot Games, Noyce manages one fully brilliant sequence—in this case the sequence where both Ryan and bad guy Felix figure out what really happened to the cartel leaders at the same time—but ultimately he fails to blend what feels like two converging films entirely convincingly. His best shot is the convoluted third act, where most believability slides right out the window.

This film marked the beginning of the end for Harrison Ford’s career, which is probably, and unfairly, my biggest reason for not loving the film. Before Clear and Present Danger Ford starred in his last great movie, The Fugitive, and after came more than a decade of the same grumpy finger-waggers. Ford still has a bit of charm here, but he certainly overdoes the frowning and pointing. Willem Dafoe and his commandos, including Benjamin Bratt, all end up playing the same characters they’ve played before and since, as does most of the Presidential cabinet, but I’m not snobby enough to complain about it. The film’s aces are Miguel Sandoval, who plays an amusingly clueless drug lord, and James Earl Jones, who is very hard to watch die.

Clear and Present Danger

Video


Clear and Present Danger looks very good for a fourteen year old movie, better than either Red October or Patriot Games. Noyce has an affinity for blue this time around, which actually makes it look more like a James Cameron or Renny Harlin film then a Phillip Noyce film. In fact, blue more or less bleeds into every other colour in frame, especially when filming indoors. The non-blues are effectively pretty, especially the Columbian reds, yellows, and oranges. You’re likely to notice some dark grain throughout, especially against bright whites (of which there are plenty), but the overall print is quite clean otherwise, featuring almost no compression noise or edge enhancement. The only real errors I noticed are probably the fault of the original source, like inconsistent background detail (probably the anamorphic lens) and slightly choppy motion during action.

Audio


Apparently Clear and Present Danger was the first Laserdisc to utilize Dolby Digital AC-3 surround capabilities. I suppose that’s one for the history books, and I suppose that has something to do with the solid nature of this Dolby TrueHD track. The hyper realistic nature of the soundtrack is effective, and the money moments are dynamic, though there are less of them then other action films. James Horner continues the Jack Ryan tradition and infuses his score with traditional music from the area the antagonists originate, in this case Latin America. There’s less infusion here than the previous films, but it’s good to have it because the rest of the score is pretty traditional thriller stuff.

Clear and Present Danger

Extras


A decent making-of featurette entitled ‘Behind the Danger’ makes up the bulk of the disc’s two extras. The look and feel of this mini-doc is very similar to those that adorned Red October and Patriot Games, featuring footage obviously culled from the same interviews, and a similar pace and runtime. There’s a lot less pre-production to talk about this time, because this film was pre-produced partially in tandem with Patriot Games, but to make up for it we’ve been supplied with more behind the scenes footage. The featurette runs a little over twenty-six minutes. The other extra is an HD version of the original trailer.

Overall


Clear and Present Danger is my least favourite in the pre-reboot Jack Ryan saga, but it still entertains, even if it’s not quite as smart as it seems to think it is. The third act is a bit of a mess, but the final five minutes or so are possibly the best in the entire series. It could also just be that I’m a little espionaged-out after watching these films in a row.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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