Film Discussion

Patriot Games (1992) – Throwback 30

There has always been a welcoming sense of change when it comes to main characters that populate ongoing series of action films. From the moment Sean Connery first stepped away from the role of James Bond and was recast with George Lazenby, with Roger Moore stepping in not long after, it established the idea that maybe the actor playing iconic roles like this were never bigger than the character. 

It must certainly have occurred to Paramount Pictures and the producers of the Jack Ryan films when production began on Patriot Games. An offer was made to Alec Baldwin to return after having been the first actor to play the role on-screen in 1990’s magnificent The Hunt for Red October, but asking for more money left those behind-the-scenes realising that if they were going to have to pay more to the person playing Ryan, then they may as well have the actor they first wanted for the role back in 1990.

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So, when Patriot Games arrived in 1992, it did so with Harrison Ford playing the iconic CIA analyst. There is a real sense of change with the second go around for Tom Clancy’s character; the Cold War vibe of the previous film has been replaced with a more pronounced action drama flavour. The ‘West vs East’ drive of the previous film’s events have been swapped in favour of one centred on the Northern Irish conflict, and the clammy suspense and claustrophobia that characterised the previous story has been pushed aside in favour of grander scaled action of a more explosive nature. Even the director’s chair had a new face. John McTiernan opted to reunite with Sean Connery to make Medicine Man, with Philip Noyce, fresh off the success of Dead Calm, stepping in to run things. 

Photo by Paramount Pictures © 2012.

While this is ostensibly a sequel to the previous film, everything is different. Not only has Jack Ryan changed, his wife and daughter have also been recast, with the only returning face being James Earl Jones. The whole vibe of the film also feels different than before; a violent assassination attempt on members of the Royal Family who are obviously based on Charles, Diana and young William and Harry (who are actually characters in the book) lets one know that this is not going to be the methodical thriller of the previous film. 

Where last time Baldwin’s iteration of Ryan was very much a desk jockey pushed into a grandiose thriller he was not used to, instead Patriot Games wants to get Ford mixed into the action at very opportunity, taking up guns, killing Northern Irish terrorists at any opportunity, even torturing a suspect at one point during the home invasion sequence in the third act, eventually getting into a violent punch-up with lead villain Sean Bean for the absolutely ridiculous finale, a sequence mandated by a request for more action by test screenings. 

Photo by Paramount Pictures © 2012.

Then there’s the film’s approach to the political situation that feels more simplistic than its predecessor. The film boils down the Northern Irish conflict to typical action drama fodder, with Ford’s Ryan pitted against Irish political terrorists (who we are constantly reminded are not the IRA) as represented by Sean Bean (doing a very heavy Northern Irish accent), Polly Walker and Patrick Bergin because of dead relatives and a ‘this time it’s personal’ second half. 

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The film remains pulpy fun, but it lacks the finesse of both Ryan films either side of it. McTiernan was more eager to make Clear and Present Danger as the follow-up to his film, which in the end would be this film’s sequel and would successfully return Ryan to a reluctant man of action type that Ford runs with beautifully and which is encapsulated by that film’s most memorable convoy assault sequence. In some ways, this one represents some of the more dicier political aspects of Clancy’s work, which has always fallen into the realm of right-wing American fantasy, a point of view that the world’s political problems can always be fixed by the might of heavy handed CIA behaviour. 

As Saturday night popcorn fare it’s fine, but being stuck in between the best live-action films to feature Clancy’s character means that for all the action in this one, it remains the least memorable of the early films to the feature Ryan.

Patriot Games was released in the UK on 25th September 1992.


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