Harrison Ford in Patriot Games.
Made between The Fugitive and Air Force One, Patriot Games was Harrison Ford at the peak of his post Star Wars/Indiana Jones popularity. As in those other two movies, Ford plays his patented "average family guy" caught up in something big and dangerous. Even though his character's only differences are their occupations, Ford's charm still draws you in and you still, of course, root for him to succeed. Both Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck have played the role of Jack Ryan, but Harrison Ford found the most success with it.
In Patriot Games, former CIA analyst Jack Ryan is in London to make a speech and do some sight seeing with his wife and daughter. Fate steps in and Jack becomes a hero saving a member of the royal family from some terrorists. In the process, he shoots and kills one of the terrorist leaders' brother. The terrorist, Sean, changes his focus from the British royals to getting revenge on Jack by going after his family. With the help of his friends in the U.S. government, Jack goes about protecting his family and capturing Sean.
Patriot Games moves along quickly, while paying great attention to detail. Notice the red pony tail in the car just before the royals get attacked. It plays heavily in helping Jack further in the film. While in London, Jack calls someone house sitting for them in the States and reminds them to take care of his daughter's gold fish. It is a set up for a punch line that comes later in the movie.
Phillip Noyce knows exactly how to direct this movie. He builds to action scenes and creates the right level of tension during them. One of the best examples is early on when Kevin quietly and calmly sits in his home watching a music video while wouldbe killers surround his home. The moment is shattered by a shotgun blast exploding through a door. The best action scene is the climactic chase and fight on speed boats at night. The amazing thing is that the entire scene was filmed in a pool. In most of the shots, the boats are not even actually moving but look as if they are. Noyce would reunite with Ford to direct Clear and Present Danger two years later, but he has yet to have another movie as successful as these two.
Patriot Games succeeds in every way except for in its politics. Sean is in an off shoot of the IRA. Harris plays a foreign lobbyist who ends up helping Jack. Annette assassinates another Irish terrorist. Americans, in general, never really took that much interest in what was going on with Ireland's religious civil war in the first place. After 9/11, it all seems like some events from a different generation. This movie is great but it already seems very dated. Tom Clancy is big on details, but the movie could have benefitted from editing even more of the politics out of the movie based on his book.
Richard Harris and Harrison Ford in Patriot Games.
Eric, I find it interesting that you consider the events of this movie, with its IRA centric plot, to be dated, but you make no mention of The Hunt for Red October's plot being dated, despite it dealing with the Cold War, which ended before the IRA laid down its weapons. Given that the politics, which aren't nearly so complicated as you imply, are so central to the motivation of the villains, it would be silly to cut them from the story.
Your mention of 9/11 did remind me that the trailer for this movie featured the line, “There's never been a terrorist attack on American soil.” Although it was removed from the final cut, it, more than the Irish politics, mark this movie as being from an earlier time.
Ford was the original choice to play Jack Ryan, but turned down The Hunt for Red October because he felt Ryan was the supporting part to Connery's Ramius. Maybe he also thought audiences would wonder why Indiana Jones was chasing his dad in a submarine. When Alec Baldwin fought with producers over scheduling and money, they remade an offer to Ford, who this time took it. He makes a different, more mature Jack Ryan (although he looks far younger than Ford's actual age of 50) than Baldwin.
As Eric described, it is Ford's ordinary guy persona that carries the movie. He's the type of actor who carries movie star charisma but without seeming larger than life. You believe it when he gets in a fight, but he's not a Stallone or a Statham and he doesn't look like he spends his life in the gym. This isn't a demanding acting job, but he performs well in it, with a couple of emotional scenes.
Although Baldwin's departure has always made news, what's less commented on is the departure of Red October's director John McTiernan. He too was replaced for scheduling reasons and Patriot Games was eventually made without him. Fortunately, as Eric said, Phillip Noyce stepped in and does a great job of keeping the action and the tension moving.
Author Tom Clancy reportedly disliked the original draft of the script so much that he asked for his name to be removed from the project. I wonder how he felt about it after the movie was released to both financial and critical success?
Thora Birch, Anne Archer and Harrison Ford in Patriot Games.
Harrison Ford is terrific as Jack Ryan. Although to be honest it's a part he could play in his sleep. As Eric wrote, it's a variation of the same role he has played many times in his long career. The same can be said of the plot. How many movies (with or without Ford) have centered around a man (usually a retired cop or former military man) protecting his family from bad guys? At some point in the movie the bad guys hurt/rape/kill either the man's wife or daughter and he must seek revenge/justice.
The reason this is such a common plot device in action movies is that it touches such a deep primordial place in the pit of a man's stomach. He is supposed to be the protector of his family and anytime you challenge a man's ability to do so (especially one that works in a heroic occupation like law enforcement or the military) you create the essence of great drama and the potential for memorable action sequences.
Patriot Games delivers on both those promises. The relationship between Ford and Archer (along with their young daughter) sets up this average loving family. It is easy to get invested in their well-being. Once the danger begins (see photo), it never really lets up and there is genuine tension throughout the story, lasting right up until the climax on those boats. Even though we know Jack Ryan will emerge relatively unscathed from the ordeal.
One trap many of these movies fall into is portraying the female family member(s) as nothing but helpless damsels in distress. Patriot Games sidesteps this problem by showing Caroline Ryan to be nearly as heroic and resourceful as her husband. As a doctor she insists on attending to her wounded husband early on in the movie. And then later on she hits one of the terrorists in the face with the butt of a shotgun. Once they realize the identity of the man after them, she tells her husband, “You get him, Jack. I don't care what you have to do. Just get him.”
I've never read any Tom Clancy novels but apparently in his books the events of Patriot Games precedes those of The Hunt for Red October. The producers changed this chronological order presumably because Harrison Ford is older than Alec Baldwin. Although, as Scott wrote, Ford was a very youthful looking 50 year old man.
Trivia corner: Harrison Ford, James Earl Jones and Samuel L. Jackson (all of whom are in this movie) would all play characters in the Star Wars universe. And this wasn't the first time Richard Harris played a member of the IRA. Way back in 1959 (in just his second movie) he played a soldier in the Irish Republican Army opposite James Cagney in Shake Hands with the Devil.
Patriot Games is a compelling action flick with a memorable cast.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (1992)