The Sum of All Fears
may not be a bad movie, exactly, but it is an unnecessary one. Although an overall competent thriller, it's not without problems. The first half of the movie is marred by some really dumb, cutesy dialogue. Also, the changes made to the story to accomodate a young Jack Ryan so that Affleck could play him inject a fair amount of implausibility and lack of authenticity to the movie. (I watched Aaron Sorkin given an interview recently. He said he didn't care at all whether "The West Wing" actually was authentic; he cared only that it appeared authentic, a sentiment I pretty much agree with.) I have an insufficient base of knowledge to judge the real authenticity of a movie like Sum
, but there were parts that sure didn't feel authentic. For example, Ryan is supposed to be the expert on the new Russian president, but whenever he's asked to explain his opinion he says "I just know it" "I just feel it" "I'd bet the farm I'm right" or something like that. And you can't help thinking, if he's so smart and knows so much about this guy, surely he could do better than that. But the main problem with Sum
is not that terrorism movies seem in poor taste or painful reminders in a post 9/11 world; it's that a significant source of the dramatic force of such cautionary tales has been sucked dry by our exposure to real events. Used to be, you'd go see a movie like Sum
(or Fail Safe
or Black Sunday
or War Games
) and, if the movie was effective, you'd walk out thinking, "Gosh that could really happen" and maybe you'd have a little trouble sleeping that night. But we don't need movies any more to show us how vulnerable we are.
For all its problems, however, one casting change would have significantly improved Sum
. The movie was best when Liev Schreiber was on screen and I kept thinking, "I'd much rather be watching this guy as Ryan than Mr. Blank."
For all the film's faults, I did think the nuclear explosion was handled well. I knew what was going to happen, and it still took me by surprise. The use of sound during the sequence was also very good.