"Clear and Present Danger" is the second of two collaborations between director Phillip Noyce and star Harrison Ford in bringing to Jack Ryan character. As was the case with the previous film, "Patriot Games," a number of artistic freedoms were taken with the original Tom Clancy novel and the story is re-imagined to make the Ford-based version of Jack Ryan an everyman hero who springs to life under extreme situations and becomes the ultimate CIA hero. "Clear and Present Danger" may not be as stimulating story-wise as "Patriot Games," but the film is filled to the brim with action and there is enough military technology and engagements to satisfy the hordes of Tom Clancy fans out there. "Clear and Present Danger" is the more entertaining of the two Harrison Ford based films.
This time around, Jack Ryan (Ford) finds himself as the Deputy Director of Intelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency after his friend and mentor Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones) dies. His first major assignment is to look into the Columbian Cartels after a friend of the Presidents (Donald Moffant) is killed. Ryan manages to secure a sizable amount of money to keep the CIA's Columbia operations going, but is only to obtain the funds after agreeing with Congress that no military operations or covert operations will occur on Columbian soil. However, National Security Advisor James Cutter (Harris Yulin) is asked to confront CIA Director of Operations Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny) to assemble a team to operate in Columbia and bring about an end to the dangerous cartels.
Ritter approaches field operative John Clark (Willem Dafoe) and asks the veteran CIA man to assemble a team capable of handing the black-ops assignment. Clark enlists Marine sniper Domingo Chavez (Raymond Cruz) and others as part of his secretive team and they being destroying drug-based operations inside of Columbia with Jack Ryan completely unaware of what is happening. However, Cartel head Ernesto Escobedo (Miguel Sandoval) is unhappy that the CIA has frozen his assets and sends his own operative against Washington and Col. Felix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida) manages to infiltrate the FBI and gather intelligence against FBI Director Emil Jacobs (Tom Tammi). Jacobs is killed when he and Ryan visit Columbia to discuss the frozen assets of Escobedo.
There is escalation after the death of Jacobs. Cutter orders the bombing of Escobedo's home during a meeting of Cartel heads in retaliation. This military action is still being handled behind Ryan's back and was handled in a manner to have it appear that the explosion was due to a competing Cartel. Eventually, Ryan discovers that it was Cutter and the United States government who handled the bombing of the Escobedo home and that innocent women and children were killed. Cortez learns of this as well and uses the knowledge and his own ambitions to agree with Cutter to assassinate Escobedo and provide to the FBI some intermittent information to give the FBI some small victories in their war against drugs.
Cutter and Cortez's deal has a downside. Cutter is to give up the location of Clark's military team and allow Cortez to capture or kill them. Ritter is told to destroy all evidence that the team existed and to immediately stop any contact or support to the team. CIA man Ryan gathers necessary intelligence after discovering Cutter was behind the Escobedo bombing and learns of the meeting between Cutter and Cortez and also learns of Chavez and the other team members in Columbia. Ryan confronts Ritter and this results in Ryan leaving for Columbia to meet with Clark and Ritter telling Clark that Ryan is responsible for his men being cut off.
The film then provides a vehicle for Harrison Ford to show off his skills as the everyman action hero and "Clear and Present Danger" delivers a satisfying climax to the subplot featuring Chavez and the military commandos who were blowing up Escobedo's installations. Jack Ryan springs to action and gets to fight for the lives of the soldiers. It is during these closing moments that Harrison Ford and Willem Dafoe get to share a little screen time and the two better known characters in the Tom Clancy novels come together for just the first to two meetings in the four films. After the big rescue, there is a little political posturing to show the sense of honor and dignity possessed by Ryan, but the film's big moments are when Ryan is in Columbia.
"Clear and Present Danger" is an absolute thrill ride that shows off some good explosions, plenty of military technology and features another heroic performance by the aging Harrison Ford. This is the most exciting of any of the Jack Ryan films, but lacks the overall potency of "The Hunt for Red October." With this being the second teaming of director Noyce and star Ford, "Clear and Present Danger" finds Jack Ryan comfortable in his surroundings and this is perhaps the most polished of any of the Jack Ryan films as this is the only of the four films where the lead actor has had one previous outing as Jack Ryan. If any actor in Hollywood history is capable of portraying an average man who can be an incredible hero, it is Harrison Ford and "Clear and Present Danger" is one of the best examples of his persona.
As was the case with "Patriot Games," "Clear and Present Danger" deviates itself from many points in the novel. Truth be told, "Clear and Present Danger" was a deep and complex novel and it would take a mini-series to fully capture everything thrown in the novel. I would have loved to have seen Samuel L. Jackson return as Robby Jackson and would have enjoyed more of the military operations that occurred in the novel, but at 144 minutes, "Clear and Present Danger" was already lengthy during its time. The computer hacking fight between Ryan and Ritter was absurd and I've never enjoyed that addition to the film. I'm not sure why this approach was taken, but as we would find out years later with "Firewall," Harrison Ford does not make for the best computer hacker.
There is a lot of fun to be had watching "Clear and Present Danger." The ambush where Jacobs is killed is a high octane action sequence with rockets, explosions and plenty of gunfire. This was one of two scenes where Jack Ryan is thrown into the heat of action and when the Academy finally gives him his career Oscar, this is one scene that should be thrown into his montage. Willem Dafoe and James Earl Jones are the only other A-list actors in the film and their presence is felt with two solid supporting performances. Anne Archer and Thora Birch reprise their roles from "Patriot Games," but the first film was far more family-centric than this all-out action affair and they are hardly memorable for their involvement in the film.
While there is a lot of action contained in "Clear and Present Danger," there is a lot of plot as well. In fact, "Clear and Present Danger" suffers perhaps from having too much plot and it gets convoluted and you almost need a cheat sheet to remember who is backstabbing who and which person is loyal to whom. For those who remember the confusing of the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" film, "Clear and Present Danger" requires you to pay just as much attention to the deals and loyalties in the film. It wasn't until my second viewing of "Clear and Present Danger" that I was fully comfortable with the story and at what all unfolds in the film. This action heavy film has perhaps a little too much story and for those upset that the screenplay team of Donald Steward, Steven Zaillian and John Millius didn't stay faithful to Clancy, it would have been far worse and far longer if every intricacy of the novel was kept.
"Clear and Present Danger" is my favorite of the four Jack Ryan films, although it is not the most faithful to my favorite author's novel. When I read the novels, Harrison Ford wasn't exactly who I had in mind, but the actor has been the best Jack Ryan on the big screen. What I enjoy about "Clear and Present Danger" that makes this film my favorite is the solid combination of military technology and excitement. There are plenty of movies out there with as much action to them and there are plenty of movie out there with more story, but "Clear and Present Danger" is a rare combination of intelligence and explosions. If you want to watch a Jack Ryan film, this is my recommendation.
"Clear and Present Danger" was filmed in very close proximity to "Patriot Games" as both films were created as one big project between filmmakers, stars and studio. This results in a very similar looking transfer on Blu-ray as the AVC MPEG-4 encoded 2.35:1 framed film looks fairly good for a catalog title, but cannot compete with films ten years more recent. The first thing that stands out is that there are plenty of scenes with incredible detail that puts the previous DVD and LaserDisc releases to shame. There is still a hint of edge enhancement and a little shimmering among some patterns on the release. There is also a thin sheen of film grain present through much of the film, but this is a fault of the original equipment and film stock used to film "Clear and Present Danger."
The level of detail remains fairly high throughout "Clear and Present Danger." Some of the outdoor sequences in Columbia looks absolutely amazing and showcases not just the strong detail, but the wonderful coloring with lush greens and blue skies. The rubble during the big climax looks solid as well. My favorite scene in the film, when the ambush occurs is another strong looking scene that showcases how much more stable and detailed this transfer is over previous outings for the film. There aren't as many dark moments in "Clear and Present Danger" as there are in other Jack Ryan films, but detail holds up during the moments when lighting is darker. The print itself is pretty clean and I couldn't find any noticeable flaws in either the digital transfer or from the print used. This Blu-ray transfer looks dated, but it is good.
"Patriot Games" was the first film I had ever purchased on LaserDisc. "Clear and Present Danger" was another important ‘first' for me on my old beloved format. It was the first ever pressed disc with AC-3 digital sound and the first title I purchased with the 5.1 sound format now known as Dolby Digital. In those days, "Clear and Present Danger" was the absolute best that home theater could offer in sound quality. Today, Paramount has provided a new English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sound for this Blu-ray release and provided additional mixes in the form of French 5.1 and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. Subtitles are included for English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese. With previously being my reference title, "Clear and Present Danger" had some big shoes to fill on Blu-ray.
Sadly, the film is no longer as potent or important in the audio world as it was. It has moved from being reference material to being just another catalog title. In general, I feel that "Clear and Present Danger" is a hair above average, but it lacks the punch and awe that it had when six channel surround sound was something new. For instance, the showcase ambush scene has rockets crossing the screen, gunfire from every direction and explosions. The scene still have the same imaging it had before and deep and powerful bass, but the .1 LFE channel doesn't feel quite as dynamic and the movement between speakers now feels a little forced and not as clean as today's newer films. Aside from the big ambush scene, the rest of the film contains plenty of moments to enjoy. Dialogue is clean as well. Sound is still quite good and "Clear and Present Danger" is an active mix, but it just isn't reference material anymore.
Only two supplements are provided for "Clear and Present Danger" and this echoes the number of materials provided for its predecessor. The first, Behind the Danger – Cast & Crew Interviews (26:34) is the only main feature and feels a little more promotional than the good little making-of documentary included for "Patriot Games." While I didn't mind sitting back for a half an hour and taking in what Ford, Noyce and others had to say about their film, it wasn't anything inspired. The standard definition supplement is in widescreen, but just looks terribly dated. The Theatrical Trailer is provided in high definition and is the second and final bonus material included on the disc. I certainly wanted a little more for "Clear and Present Danger."
"Clear and Present Danger" is my favorite Jack Ryan film. Part of this is due to my tremendous respect for Harrison Ford and growing up loving Indiana Jones and Han Solo. Another part of this is my enjoyment of military technology and power. These elements are combined nicely with "Clear and Present Danger" in a way that the other three Jack Ryan films have not done. Yes, "Hunt For Red October" is a superior film, but it lacks Ford. The new Blu-ray release features the best sight and sound the film has ever had, but the movie is now nearing fifteen years old and it cannot compete with the bigger and badder films of today. The transfer does show the films age, but I found it clean and affable. Sadly, the supplements do not provide too much more bang for the buck and the release features the least materials of any of the Jack Ryan films being released together, just behind "Patriot Games" which had a better making-of documentary. This release should still please fans, even if it is just average.