Jack is back--and this time around we get to see how effusive CIA analyst Jack Ryan got his start in the game of world politics. The green Ryan (Ben Affleck) has been working for the CIA on the Russian intelligence desk for just a short while and has started dating beautiful medical resident Cathy Muller (Bridget Moynahan). When the president of Russia suddenly dies and is succeeded by Alexander Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds) a man the U.S. knows very little about old paranoia springs up anew between the two countries. CIA Director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) recruits Ryan who had written an in-depth paper on Nemerov to supply insight and advice. But things get ugly fast. First a bombing attack levels the capital of Chechnya. Then the unimaginable happens--a nuclear bomb explodes on U.S. soil at the Superbowl outside of Baltimore. U.S. blames Russia but Jack bets his life that an outside terrorist faction is responsible. When Jack's suspicions are found to be true it's up to our hero to try and stop the two world superpowers from starting WWIII.
Affleck joins the growing list of actors to portray Clancy's hero Jack Ryan and in all fairness to the actor his performance isn't really one to compare. This isn't Harrison Ford's Ryan who in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger is the established CIA honcho having played the game a long time. It isn't even Alec Baldwin's Ryan who in The Hunt for Red October is already a proven CIA analyst with a wife and young child. Affleck's Ryan is just starting out full of youth and idealism. He's a little nervous to be working with the CIA but excited to be involved in it--and he is falling in love for the first time. Plus he gets to save the world. All combined the performance is a cakewalk for the affable actor and he handles the action chores well. As far as Affleck continuing the Clancy franchise it remains to be seen because we've already seen the different stages of Jack Ryan's life played out. Where is there left to go? As always Freeman is also excellent and quite convincing as the CIA director; the actor could read a phone book out loud and make it compelling. Liev Schreiber also does a nice turn as a secret CIA operative who helps Ryan discover the terrorists.
Tom Clancy takes his material directly from real-life world conflicts and it's understood that his novels however far-fetched they may seem in some ways could actually happen. The fact is there are 164 transportable nuclear warheads currently unaccounted for (according to the film's production notes)--and a terrorist group could get their hands on one at any time. Still like reading a fictitious novel Fears is a Hollywood movie. Director Phil Alden Robinson orchestrates plenty of tense moments that you know are highly implausible--i.e. surviving a nuclear blast and then running through a debris-strewed street while trying to use a cell phone--but we go along with it anyway because we are action junkies. There are two aspects however that differentiate this film from the hundreds of other films of its genre. First it actually shows a nuclear bomb going off. It's somewhat shocking when it happens since we are used to the hero stopping that in time. It's powerful stuff. The second is that the Russians aren't the bad guys (Nazi fascists are but that's another matter)--a definite and refreshing change of pace. Even if Fears mirrors the current unsettling climate the film is still an enjoyable ride.