Spy 100, #77: Clear and Present Danger

The only Tom Clancy adaptation on the list, Clear and Present Danger (1994) provides a spy story take on the United States government’s war on drugs. When Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) steps in as deputy director of the CIA for his ailing boss Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones), he finds himself unwittingly facilitating — and later, uncovering — a series of covert military operations against a powerful drug cartel in Colombia. Despite the maneuverings of a pair of corrupt espiocrats (Harris Yulin and Henry Czerny) and the disingenuous President Bennett (Donald Moffat), Ryan finds evidence that could blow the lid off these illegal operations…only to jeopardize the military unit involved, not to mention position himself as the fall guy. A “boy scout” with unshakeable integrity, Ryan has to take matters into his own hands, teaming up with black ops mastermind John Clark (Willem Dafoe) to rescue the surviving soldiers and expose the scandal.

For a major blockbuster action film, I found Clear and Present Danger a thoroughly competent but decidedly run-of-the-mill affair, elevated almost single-handedly by Ford’s charisma. Nobody does action hero better than Ford in his prime; here he takes a generic knight-in-shining-armor intelligence officer and gives him a likable, soft-spoken quirkiness that stands out in the film’s sea of posturing testosterone.

The story is suitably complex, but it’s not particularly well paced; indeed, the pace is almost stately for the first forty-five minutes. The action sequences are well done, and mercifully realistic, bereft of superhuman feats. That said, it’s interesting to compare against something like 24, which pulls off much more impressive sequences on a regular basis, even in its weak episodes. This, and other, elements of the film make it feel very much of its era, and so perhaps dated. But it does at least add some variety to the list in terms of subject matter and geography, thanks to its drug war focus and South American setting. In the end, it’s not a bad film, but I probably would have positioned it considerably lower on my list.

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