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Film review: Patriot Games

Fans of both the film version of "The Hunt for Red October" and Tom Clancy's novels, have been calling about "Patriot Games" ever since it was first announced: "Will it be faithful to the book?" "Will it be any good?" And the most frequently asked query, "What will it be rated?"

The latter question comes, of course, because "Hunt" was rated PG. But "Patriot Games" carries an R rating. Why? Primarily for violence, along with a few scattered profanities and a sex scene with some brief male nudity.

Now that that's out of the way, is it faithful to the book?


And is it any good?

In my estimation, "Patriot Games" is an enjoyable, tense and sometimes stylish action film, but lacks the depth of characterization and technical proficiency that made "Hunt" a superior work.

In many ways "Patriot Games" is little more than a by-the-numbers thriller with visual flair that seems lifted from other films - primarily "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Cape Fear."

But director Phillip Noyce ("Dead Calm") gives it flourish and tension and star Harrison Ford brings a commanding sense of decency and humanity to the role of CIA analyst Jack Ryan, making it his own. (Personally, I found him much more appealing than Alec Baldwin, who starred in "Hunt.")

The story has Ryan as an instructor at Annapolis, now retired from the CIA. As the film opens he is on vacation with his doctor-wife Cathy (Anne Archer) and their daughter Sally (Thora Birch). When he witnesses an act of terrorism, as an apparent IRA faction attempts to kidnap Lord Holmes (James Fox), a member of the Royal Family, Ryan intervenes.

He saves Holmes but kills the brother of leader Sean Miller (Sean Bean) in the process. Naturally, Miller vows revenge - and as the film progresses he becomes more and more obsessed with killing Ryan and his family.

This leads to some hair-raising moments, including a chase on a Maryland freeway, which is very well directed, and the climactic speed-boat chase during a storm. (There's also a sequence toward the end, with terrorists stalking the Ryan home, that feels more like a horror movie.)

The most effective action sequence, however, is the most subtle, as Ryan watches video monitors in Washington that show, via satellite, a violent military action. The figures on the screen are indistinct images and the scene relies heavily on Ryan's reactions. Actor Ford is more than up to the task; his face says more than reams of dialogue.

The film's primary weakness is lack of character development in the screenplay by Donald Stewart ("Missing"). Aside from Ryan himself, few of the others are given enough to do, much less emotional depth - and that includes the villains.

The word is that Ford has signed on to make two more Clancy films as Jack Ryan, the next being "Clear and Present Danger," to be followed by Clancy's latest, "The Sum of All Fears." Let's hope the filmmakers pay a little more attention to story and character the next time around. Since Clancy will supposedly have more input in the next two films, maybe that will happen.