‘Patriot Games’ – ’92 Cinema Revue

Patriot Games – #1 in the US (June 5-7)

All-Time Domestic $83,351,587 | All-Time International $94,700,000

All-Time Worldwide $178,051,587

Patriot Games gets a high score for being an intriguing action-packed “dad movie.”

Tom Clancy (1947-2013) is pictured here wearing a USS Iowa cap.
Source: The New York Times

If you ask someone about Tom Clancy, they will probably recognize his name as the possessive before Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. Clancy is often more associated with gaming than film or books nowadays. Not even Amazon’s Jack Ryan show with CIA lover John Krasinski could change that. Someone’s conservative dad or uncle might have seen all two seasons so far. Yet, not much of Ryanverse is as hot a commodity as it was back in the 80s and 90s. It’s still a hit with dads and falls into the “dad movie” category of film. The books were massive sellers with The Hunt for Red October launching the former insurance salesman to superstardom in the political thriller world. 

The 1990 film adaptation by director John McTiernan was also a critical and commercial success. Critics praised Sean Connery’s role and Alec Baldwin’s take on Jack Ryan. When it came time for a sequel, Baldwin was busy taking on Death of a Salesman on Broadway with Harrison Ford, a full-blown movie star for nearly a decade, coming into the role. Ford came in as he was the original choice. Baldwin said he had to choose between Broadway or this film, but Ford already had the part anyway as Paramount owed him one. Baldwin has nothing nice to say about Ford to this day. Tom Clancy joined the Ford hate train, whose conservative Republican views do not mesh with Ford’s left-leaning stance. The real question is if the film would continue the acclaim and if Ford could help lead his now third franchise.

Jack Ryan (Ford) is in the UK visiting for a speech to give to the Royal Naval Academy. As he leaves, members of a broken-off faction of the Irish Republican Army attempt to kidnap the Minister of Northern Ireland by bombing a car as a terrorist attack and distraction. One is Sean Miller (Sean Bean), whose brother Patrick is killed after being shot by an intervening Jack Ryan. Ryan’s wife Cathy (Anne Archer) and Sally (Thora Birch) also witness the event with horror. Ryan now must investigate what exactly the faction wants and how they operate. On the other hand, Miller intends to seek revenge on Ryan by any means necessary, even entering the United States. It’s a battle of wits and vengeance with a bit of trauma thrown in to stir the pot.

Patriot Games succeeds in being a compelling spy thriller with a more action-heavy romp and a terrific performance by Ford. The addition of making the movie more action-oriented than the previous entry is welcomed. Not to say thrillers must be littered with action all the time, but it helps. It still retains having the smartness about itself without talking down to those watching it, though one can get lost. One scene in particular features an action sequence shown in night vision as soldiers raid a camp in Libya while cutting to those watching from afar in Washington. It’s clever, and the editing here adds to the intensity of the scene with Ryan nearly breaking a sweat seeing if the mission is successful or not. 

That, in and of itself, is worthy of combining the whipsmart intellect of the thriller and the heart-pounding action. There’s also the final third act where the film becomes a home invasion movie. This third act is phenomenal and could be a film all on its own. It’s suspenseful, and being amid a storm elevates the thrills too. Adding a boat chase after this scene is only icing on the cake. Sean Bean is the main baddie involved, too, so one can guess who this third act plays out for him. 

Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) intervenes to stop a kidnapping by Sean Miller (Sean Bean).
Source: Paramount Pictures

Ford steps into the role seamlessly. He may be older (he was 49 compared to Baldwin’s age of 34), but Ford has the character’s tone and how he operates down to a science. It helps that Ford is a phenomenal actor and has familiarity with holding down a franchise. Ryan is portrayed as stepping away from the CIA to become a United States Naval Academy professor. It makes this film firmly set in 1992 and Hunt very much stuck in 1984 as, in real-time, eight years would have passed.

What’s remarkable, and something not expected, was the film handling post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Ryan is afraid to be alone and thinks about the terrorist attack constantly. It also doesn’t help when one of the connections to the faction in the form of Richard Harris, does not give him any comfort in lending a hand. Ryan is restless and tired but does not give up. Ford elevates the role and adds depth to it. Patriot Games is also the beginning of the “WHERE’S MY WIFE?!” phase of Ford’s career with yelling and finger-pointing. By the way, I counted—my dude points in anger or to prove something five times in this film.

Anne Archer as Cathy is great with that same PTSD of her husband’s but also holds her own to not letting it get in the way. Archer is quite an underrated actress, but she’s dynamite when she appears. James Earl Jones returns as Admiral James Greer from the first film and is a commanding presence even in his seldom appearance. Samuel L. Jackson also pops up for quite a spell and much of the third act. Unfortunately, Jackson is mostly there to help support Jack in a setpiece than given anything of substance. Bean is also great as the foil to Ryan and as the rebel of his faction being hellbent on getting revenge. It’s a precursor to his even better villainous turn as Alec Trevelyn in 1995’s Goldeneye

When it comes to the political intrigue, it can be dull in some sections for those unfamiliar with the series or spy and political thrillers outside of James Bond and Mission: ImpossiblePatriot Games is following a thin line between the two. Red October is much more intriguing in the politics of negotiating as Ryan is a CIA analyst, and the communication is beyond compare. Here, there isn’t that communication breakdown; instead, Ryan has to piece it together in an intriguing mystery. As time marches on, if one doesn’t know about The Troubles in Ireland or the history of the IRA, the mystery can be less intriguing and more archaic in retrospect, given the state of Ireland and the IRA these days. There are definite slow moments, and it can be a slow burn. You can see a dad falling asleep on the couch during the quieter scenes and waking up the minute a gun is shot. It’s a great direction to go in as going back to the Cold War would be seen as a relic even in ’92, given the fall of the Soviet Union. Taking notes during this film helps keep track of everything and not miss a step, but some may fall by the wayside and feign interest.

Sean Miller (Sean Bean) vows vengeance for his brother. Also, for those playing at home, this is his sith on-screen death in a film.
Source: Paramount Pictures/Getty Images

Now, why is this a “dad movie?” Political thrillers are always sure to get a dad intrigued and enthralled. There’s a reason these movies still get made. It’s a romp that makes dad think they know what to expect and appeals to the stereotypical “good vs. evil” storytelling. Harrison Ford is 100% a guarantee to make this a hit as he is very much a guy associated with being a man’s man of actors. He may be too out there for some dads, but he resonates with cool older guy energy. Indiana Jones is a franchise of dad movies but also has the best dad movie ever, with The Last Crusade being the ultimate “dad movie” on the action front. 

Dads want to be Harrison Ford, whether he is in space, in Egypt, or as a member of the CIA. The film is also exciting, but not too exciting. Dads want a good time with action but do not want it to be too violent or gory. Dads don’t want to watch The Raid or Dredd, which rule. They want to watch Olympus Has Fallen or Air Force One, which are fun if a bit stupid. It appeals to that. It fits those notes for “dad movies” regarding action and adventure. The ultimate dad movie that is not an action romp is Forrest Gump. The Ryanverse is just a tiny part of the category.

Patriot Games gets a high score in being an intriguing action-packed “dad movie” elevated by key player Harrison Ford. It hones in on the action to deliver a crowd-pleaser along with enough wits and intrigue to garner interest. It can be slower for those dipping their toes in the spy thriller genre but can entertain for those familiar. But, it’s a “game” that is still worth enjoying.

Revue Rating: 4 out of 5

Real talk, though, f*ck Tom Clancy.

Next time, we take to the skies with a man who would rather be a pig than a fascist. It’s Hayao Miyazaki’s underrated gem, Porco Rosso.

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