Movie Review: Patriot Games


A former CIA analyst is targeted by the IRA after intervening in a terrorist attack.


Phillip Noyce, 1992

While on vacation with his family in London, former CIA agent Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) and his family witness an attempt to assassinate a British lord. Stepping in to stop the attack, Ryan kills two of the assailants and takes a bullet to the shoulder (the hero gets it there all the time!). Ryan later testifies against Sean Miller (Sean Bean), whose brother he killed during the attack. Miller becomes obsessed with taking revenge on Ryan, targeting his wife Cathy (Anne Archer) and daughter Sally (Thora Birch). Ryan decides to rejoin the CIA to track down Miller, who in the meantime has joined a splinter group of the IRA who want to take more desperate measures against the British. With their man on the inside of the CIA, they hatch another dangerous plot.


I found this movie to be a surprisingly low-energy affair. Given the complexity of the film’s twisted plot, its lack of momentum left me really struggling to pay attention. I felt like the film lacked focus, spending far too much time with the bad guys on the other side of the world, which made me lose interest consistently. There’s so much time spent with people we have no reason to care about, purely because their actions in some way contribute to the convoluted plot. You could definitely feel the bookiness (bookness?) of the adaptation – things that I’m sure worked quite well in the novel were unnecessarily intricate and busy in the film adaptation. I found the movie to be much more interesting when it was focused on his interactions with his family and how his work affected them. The tension also bled out through the frankly bizarre, low-key soundtrack (I’m sure people loved how weird it was at the time, but I found it distracting and frustrating). As much as I hate fridging and damseling, this movie was definitely at its best when it brought the action home with Jack. Fortunately the finale is tense and well-shot, increasing the stakes and regaining some of the good-will I’d lost over the course of the movie.

Harrison Ford puts in a serious, committed central performance here. There seems to be a lot of commitment to making Jack Ryan a smart “thinking man’s” action hero, marking that shift away from 80s action blockbusters and muscle men towards the less brutal heroes we tend to prefer now. It feels very dated in that sense. Anne Archer is terrific as Jack’s wife Cathy, who is more ruthless than him in a lot of ways, and their chemistry is good. Thora Birch is also good as Sally. Sean Bean is great in the villain’s role, even if I do feel like less might’ve been more. There’s also a weird objectification of his one female associate – her red hair is pretty much her only character trait, to the point where the plot frequently hinges on recognising her hair in different situations. Men, just a note, hair is not personality. Aside from “bad guy with red hair”, that woman seemed to have no defining features. Richard Harris puts in a brief but memorable appearance as a prominent member of the IRA – his scenes with Ford brim with tension, and give Ford the best vehicle to show who his Jack Ryan is. Overall, the film is much too long and complicated, losing steam along the way, but has its moments.

Patriot Games on IMDb


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