THE SUM of All Fears, which is now being shown in cinemas, was done and dusted before 11 September 2001. But the film deals with a major terrorist attack on the US and has been seen as Hollywood's first attempt to deal with the attacks. It has been a big hit in the US.
The Sum of All Fears is one of four films made from Tom Clancy's spy thrillers, which feature CIA agent Jack Ryan, maverick Russian generals and an assortment of crazed terrorists. But this latest offering is not a gung-ho cinematic revenge for 11 September, with the US military kicking ass and saving the free world.
This doesn't mean it's a good film. It's just not as bad as it could have been. The first half borders on the farcical, with a script not so much written as rehashed from old James Bond movies and set uncomfortably in 2002. Alan Bates gives a hilarious performance as a vicious neo-Nazi. He plans to avoid Hitler's mistake of taking on too many enemies at once. Instead his dastardly plot is to spark nuclear war so he can 'take over zee vorld'. Funniest of all is Ben Affleck as a young CIA agent.
Affleck acts, in as far as he acts at all, like a laid back teenager playing at spies. We are supposed to believe that he is an expert on Russia with a unique power of insight needed by the military top brass. But you couldn't take him seriously even if it did mean saving the world. There is a dramatic change of tone in the second half of the film when the body count rises and tension mounts, but there are no real surprises. Some interesting political ideas hover around the film, like the US's role in arming Israel.
Overall the film reveals a sense of deep insecurity, a new world of disorder. Politicians and generals are shown as powerless to stop themselves being caught up in the crazy logic of war. They fear the appearance of weakness more than mutually assured nuclear destruction. It is not an affirmation of US power but a demonstration of how the world can never be safe with nuclear weapons in it. This aspect of the film has made some reviewers describe it as subversive. But any hint of an interesting plot development soon gets buried beneath so much old fashioned, tedious tosh.
Presidents cannot save the day but, never fear, honourable CIA and KGB agents are on hand. If you are nostalgic for Cold War thrillers, with boozy Russkies, clever gadgets, weapons and black-clad agents bumping each other off, you might like this film.
Otherwise be thankful that The Sum of All Fears isn't the sum of all the awfulness it could have been.