Rated R for violence and sexuality. It has sex and it seems really intense, and then you realize that you really don't see much. This sounds like I'm excusing what is in there. It makes me sound gross. I'm just calling it as I see it. Yeah, it's got sex. Also, the sex is totally gratuitous. But it actually is pretty tame considering that we're in the Wild West of the 1990s here. Because Patriot Games decides to ride the R-rating, they also don't mind having language. R.
DIRECTOR: Phillip Noyce
His name is "Phillip Noyce." "Noyce." I can't. I can't unhear it in my brain. The entire time I'm writing this, I'm going to be having the Key & Peelesketch running through my brain. Just constant high fives up there that I can't stop. Since I start every one of these things with a bloggy tone, I have to hearken back to why I'm watching Patriot Games. A movie like Patriot Games was actually kind of a big deal in the '90s. Harrison Ford Jack Ryan movies were kind of a big deal. But like many modern classics (I don't know if Patriot Games really falls in that list whatsoever, but it still supports my point), this movie was kind of lost to the new generation. Back when the podcast was crushing, we thought about doing a Jack Ryan episode to discuss season one of the Amazon Prime television show. As part of that, I thought it would be interesting to rewatch the Jack Ryan film entries to see if they held up. That Jack Ryan episode never happened and the blu-rays have sat there on my table, waiting to be watched.
When I was younger, I had watched Clear and Present Danger a bunch of times. I don't think that I really understood a lot of the content of Clear and Present Danger, but it was PG-13 and I was allowed to rent it from Blockbuster, which was literal walking distance from my house. By the time I was old enough to rent Patriot Games, I remember being kind of bored with the whole story. I had no idea what the IRA was. It seemed convoluted. I was only really renting Clear and Present Danger because of the shootout at the end of that one. With Patriot Games, I just got turned off. There was very little action, so I turned off the movie. I would like to remind my readers that I always tend to hate the younger version of myself. I would not want to hang out with 17 year old me.
While people preach The Hunt for the Red October as the best entry in the Jack Ryan series, going as far as classifying THAT entry as a potential modern classic, Patriot Games may be a stronger film because of its treatment of the protagonist. The Hunt for the Red October is weirdly like Die Hard. I'm very cool with that because Die Hard rules. But because it is too much in the same vein as that other movie, it doesn't really hold resonance with me. It is a copy of things that made another movie great. Similarly, Jack Ryan lacks depth in that movie. It's the first entry. In the same way that we don't know who James Bond is in Dr. No, Jack Ryan is simply "White Male Smart Protagonist" in this one.
I suppose that I'm going to be making a handful of connections between the Jack Ryan franchise and the James Bond franchise, just because I'm pretty intimate with both. (I just admitted seconds ago that this is the first time that I made it through Patriot Games, but the rest of the series is like the back of my hand...kind of.) One of the more disappointing entries in the James Bond franchise is Licence to Kill, which is Timothy Dalton's second and final entry. There aren't a majority of people who claim that Timothy Dalton was their Bond and my suspicions lie in the fact that Licence to Kill isn't very good. Patriot Games and Licence to Kill attempt to do the same thing to the protagonist by having the antagonist go after the protagonist's loved ones, but Patriot Games pulls it off.
The Jack Ryan movies are a very specific kind of fun and Patriot Games does wonders for establishing that tone. Timothy Dalton's Bond was an attempt to ground the franchise with a serious tone. There are other entries that have a semi-serious vibe, but Dalton's Bond was gritty and edgy. The Living Daylights, Dalton's first entry, is actually one of my favorite Bond movies because it creates a complex balance between the super-spy-fi world of James Bond with the hard-edged drama that Dalton attempted. But Licence to Kill deviates from that pretty hard. The jump between The Hunt for the Red October and Patriot Games, however, is more of an attempt to flesh out a character.
Because Jack Ryan's traits were so ambiguous in The Hunt for the Red October, having the story being something personal gives the story boundaries. I'm not quite sure if Patriot Games is technically a sequel to The Hunt for the Red October. James Earl Jones is in Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger, so I'm going to live in the world that they are direct sequels. There are elements that the film is trying to repeat between Red October and Patriot Games, mostly with Jack with his daughter while on the phone. It's oddly specific that I'm pointing this two second clip out, but it is showing that Jack is no stranger to the world of political intrigue. But making Patriot Games a personal story makes a ton of sense. Jack isn't battle worn. When disaster strikes near him, it's not action star Jack Ryan running into battle. Instead, it mostly is about a marine who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The film doesn't ignore the political landscape, but rather uses it to flesh out the world of Ryan. Noyce! (I can't help it) focuses the battle between Sean and Jack both as a political thriller and as something that could possibly mirror a movie like Cape Fear. All of the intrigue stuff is interesting to a certain degree, but the movie is about two powerhouses being separated and then slowly moving together for a final act. Sean Bean's appropriately named Sean doesn't come across as super sympathetic, considering that he has a backstory that should lend itself to sympathy. I would have loved to see the tortured villain played with a bit of nuance. Instead, we kind of get the next best thing with Sean acting just as a force of nature.
Sean's obsession is what makes the movie interesting. I'm just going to throw out that Harrison Ford has to be the best Jack Ryan, but I'm really interested in Sean's scariness. Characters throughout the story keep reassuring Jack that there is no way that Sean is going to get him. It's way too much of a Chekhov's gun to ignore, but that gun goes off multiple times. Sean becomes this almost force of nature. It's a little ridiculous that the splinter group of the IRA (that's what they ended up being, right?) would be so cavalier as to risk their mission to get Ryan multiple times. I know that the assassination attempts on Ryan the second time were justified as a means to get Lord Holmes, but it's all a bit convenient, right? Sean is this scary dude, mainly because he wants to kill a kid. This is where Noyce! really wins me over. It will make me sound like (more of a) monster, but I do like the fact that the kid is in genuine danger at times. She takes some pretty intense damage. Again, we're in the '90s here, so you can't kill the kid. But putting her in the hospital makes you a pretty evil bad guy.
Where Patriot Games possibly loses its footing is the problem I have with most Tom Clancy properties. I'm not the biggest Tom Clancy fan. He's fine. I can't get through his books to save my life. The movie attempts to complicate the plot in the back of the story. There's a thread throughout the movie that Sean's splinter group isn't really IRA. There is a mysterious woman who completes all these hits, implying that she might actually be something larger. Instead, a lot of that gets loose explanation. Jack, because he needs to show off his amazing analytical prowess, dispatches with a lot of these guys off camera. There's also some confusion who is actually killed off camera, which complicates a third act that otherwise owns.
I dig Patriot Games. It's got a lot going for it. I don't know why it is impossible to hold onto a cinematic Jack Ryan for more than two movies, but Patriot Games was a better film than I was ready for.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.