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"You see this? That's your new target, unless it's not big enough."
John Clark
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Clear and Present Danger is a 1994 film starring Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, Joaquim De Almeida, Raymond Cruz, and Benjamin Bratt, adapted from the novel of the same name. It is the third and final film in the Jack Ryan trilogy (the first two being The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games. The Sum of All Fears was a reboot of the franchise).

Jack Ryan (Ford), now Acting CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence following Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones) being diagnosed with terminal cancer, must investigate the murder of a life-long friend of the POTUS in relation to what appears to be a drug cartel in Colombia, only to be pulled into a war illegally started by the US government.


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This film contains examples of:

  • A Father to His Men:
    • John Clark is very protective of his soldiers, and is furious when the CIA pulls the plug on the operation and leaves his men to die.
    *Ryan and Clark find the body of an American soldier*
    Ryan: One of ours?
    Clark: One of mine.
    • Averted with Ritter, despite the fact that his ironclad belief that people in the field are entitled to the support of the men who sent them into danger being his biggest positive personality trait in the books.
  • Action Duo: Ryan and Clark become this in the third act.
  • Action Survivor: Ryan, as per usual.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Cathy Ryan, described as a classic blond, blue-eyed beauty, is now reddish-brunette.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Felix Cortez is a far more pragmatic operative in the novel who does not murder Moira Wolfe nor organizes the cartel ambush on Emil Jacobs, being outraged at the unnecessary escalation and retaliation that this would provoke from the American government.
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    • Bob Ritter is a lot more unpleasant in the film version than the book - for instance, Film!Ritter is callous, smug, and eventually gets his come-uppance, whilst Book!Ritter gets off scot-free, is competent, and appreciates the seriousness of the operation he is running. Film!Ritter is also complicit in Admiral Cutter's abandoning of the Light Infantry units still in Colombia, whilst Book!Ritter is highly suspicious of Cutter's assurances that they will be rescued and helps Ryan find a way to get them out.
    • The President gets this treatment as well. Book!President is genuinely horrified by Cutter's betrayal of the American teams and deliberately loses the presidential election to preserve the honor of those who died.
    • Inverted with the hitmen that kill Harden and his family. In the book, it's implied that they killed his son then raped Harden's wife and teen daughter in front of him before killing them. In the film, they simply killed them in their staterooms while they slept with no mention of sexual assault.
  • Anti-Hero: As Tom Clancy himself has said, John Clark is Jack Ryan's "dark side." Both men are highly competent and loyal to their country. However, Jack Ryan is Always Lawful Good while John Clark is willing to bend the law to achieve his goals.
  • Armchair Military: When the operation starts to unravel and people not cleared start to figure it out, one person states rather bluntly that if the CIA had actually bothered to include the organizations they were suborning, the operation would have run smoother, would not have been discovered, and would've been a hell of a lot more deniable, basically a screed against the Armchair Military that set up the operation in the first place.
  • Bastardly Speech: President Bennett's speech praising Admiral Greer's devotion to service and his country is juxtaposed with images of the US commando team in Colombia, who he sent there in the first place, being massacred after the administration sold them out, giving their location to the cartels and then cutting them off completely.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The President. He deliberately invokes the image of the wise, grandfatherly, upstanding statesmen, but then drops the facade when Ryan confronts him about the Colombia mission. He's not above bribery, blackmail, and throwing his subordinates to the wolves to protect his presidency.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ryan and Clark rescue the soldiers and thwart Cortez's plans, but Ryan is left with the difficult to decision to blow the lid on the entire operation in which both the President and several of his own cohorts had acted without his knowledge, opening the floodgates to a major presidential scandal. Whatever the political cost, Ryan is determined that not even the President will walk for having recklessly authorized a course of action that led to the deaths of several soldiers and civilians on both sides, leaving the fates of the conspirators in the hands of Congress at the close of the film.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: "How dare you, sir!" The "old man" in question being the President of the United States.
  • Captain Obvious: When discussing the alleged car bomb :
    Jack: What happens when a car bomb goes off ?
    CIA Analyst: It explodes.
    Jack: Right...
  • Character Death: James Greer dies towards the end of the movie of pancreatic cancer.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Cortez. He started off as a Cuban intelligence officer. He abandoned the Cubans for the Macheteros (a Puerto Rican terrorist group), then abandoned the Macheteros for the Cali Cartel, and is now trying to overthrow Escobedo to take over the Cartel himself.
  • The Cartel: The Big Bad of our tale. As awful as the Bennett, Cutter and Ritter exposed themselves to be by ordering "Operation RECIPROCITY", they wouldn't have had to act hadn't Escobedo decided to make an example for anybody who thinks of scamming him again of some man's family.
  • The Cavalry: After everything goes to hell, Ryan and Clark help organize a rescue for the troops left behind on the ground.
  • Comically Missing the Point: From the alcoholic helicopter pilot :
    Jack: Do you have any time in this type [of helicopter] ?
    Pilot: Nine o'clock.
  • Computer = Tapedrive: The "supercomputer" used to hack into Ritter's system is shown as a magnetic tape library with a robotic arm.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • In Patriot Games, Sally is asked what she wants for breakfast. She says "Pancakes". Jack replies that there is no time for pancakes, it is either toast or toast. Here, in Clear and Present Danger, the little John Ryan, not yet born in previous movie, is asked by Sally what he wants for breakfast, and she proposes toast. He replies "Waffles". She tells him that there is no time for waffles. So he says "Pancakes". She replies "Toast".
    • Jack's first scene has him taking some interest in his son playing with a toy submarine.
  • Cool Code of Source: There is a moment where a CIA cracker writes a "special program" to crack into Ritter's encrypted files. Unfortunately, it's a fake language.
  • Corrupt Politician: Played straight with President Bennett, who resorts to illegal means to have his way in stopping the drug cartels; Also, Cutter and Ritter.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The FBI director and his agents are cornered and viciously mowed down by Cortez's men; despite their brave efforts, Ryan is the only one to survive relatively unscathed. Director Jacobs, Agent Dan Murray and the Ambassador are killed. During a phone conversation between Ryan and his wife Cathy, you can hear a news report in the background that the rest of the security detail were killed or wounded.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • In the film, Moira Wolfe is murdered by Felix Cortez once she is no longer useful to him. In the book she survives, although the fact that Felix Cortez successfully got sensitive information from her results in her security clearance being revoked.
    • Escobedo is killed by one of Cortez's personal soldiers at the climax, when the man comes in shooting to protect Cortez from being beaten to death with a bat by Escobedo (courtesy of Ryan exposing his plan to take over the cartel with Cutter's assistance). In the novel he escapes American justice but he's handed over to the other Cartel heads who will deal with him for his supposed treason (although the text never says if they did kill him).
    • Also applies to Felix Cortez. In the film he is shot and killed by Chavez. In the book he is captured and handed over to Cuban authorities.
    • In the film, Ryan's FBI buddy Dan Murray is killed during the ambush on the FBI Director's convoy. In the books he isn't even present during that attack, and remains an important character in later Tom Clancy novels (eventually rising to the position of FBI director).
  • Death of a Child: When the airstrike is called in on the cartel, children are seen playing in the strike zone seconds before the bomb hits. Later on the President of the United States reacts with horror when he sees news footage of a child's body being removed from the area.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: The President threatens to do this to Admiral Greer, putting the blame on him for RECIPROCITY and how much it screwed up, unless Ryan backs off. It only pisses off Jack.
  • Demoted to Extra: Emil Jacobs was a major character in the book before his assassination, while here he's only given two very short scenes prior to his death and barely has any lines. His death, however, still has the same impact in the film as it did in the book.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Ritter and Cutter attempt to frame Ryan for the loss of Clark's team, and agree to reestablish communications with them if Clark kills Ryan. They however clearly did not count on Clark launching his own investigation into the matter and falsely claims Ryan to be dead before ordering Ritter to reactivate the comlink. With Clark's men already dead or captured, Ritter simply hangs up the phone on him. With this, Ryan and Clark not only save the few men who survived, but now they have leverage against both Ritter and Cutter after the cartel is finally defeated.
    • Escobedo does what he always does when someone steals from him and orders the slaughter of a man and his entire family, without knowing (and later not caring) that the man had connections going as high up as the President of the United States.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: A man steals from Escobedo and he has him and his entire family killed in retaliation. It backfires on Escobedo because the man was a personal friend of the President of the United States, but Escobedo gets over his Oh, Crap! moment once Cortez tells him this fact very quickly, thinking the President won't do anything. He's kind of wrong.
  • The Dragon:
    • The President of the United States has (National Security Adviser) James Cutter.
    • Cutter has (CIA Director of Operations) Bob Ritter.
    • Ritter has John Clark, the man running the operation at the ground level. Or so he thinks. Clark actually doesn't care nearly as much about Ritter's operation or political survival as he does about the men under his command, and once he realizes that Ritter left them to die, turns on him without a second thought.
    • Ernesto Escobedo has Felix Cortez.
    • Cortez has an unnamed Dragon of his own, who comes in quite handy several times.
  • Dragon with an Agenda:
    • Felix Cortez, who tries to manipulate the movie's events so that he can take over the Cartel.
    • Averted with Bob Ritter. While he's often seen needling his superiors or prodding them in a bad direction, he never actually does anything other than try to carry out their orders. It's just that unlike them, he realizes what the execution of those orders looks like in the real world.
  • Drugs Are Bad: The President's philosophy justifying his illegal covert war against the drug cartels, and that of most of his cabinet as well, though he is shown to have some moral misgivings about the drug lords' children being collateral damage in his airstrike on their conference.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The drug lords (especially Escobedo) are almost constantly surrounded by their wives and children, much to the President's consternation when he sees rescue workers hauling a child's corpse out of the wreckage after they bombed a conference the drug lords were holding at one of their mansions.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Cortez has the mindset of a professional intelligence officer, so while he mostly has a lot of Pragmatic Villainy moments, he does show genuine disgust with the methods used by the Cartel to intimidate their rivals.
    • In comparison to Ritter, the President shows a short bout of utter horror at seeing on the news that there were children among the casualties of Operation RECIPROCITY.
  • Every Helicopter Is a Huey: The helicopter that Ryan gets for the climax is a Huey.
  • Everything Is Online: Mocked. After Cortez and Ryan both start to suspect that a car bombing was actually caused by a missile, they research the issue. Ryan, the Deputy Director of the largest intelligence organization in the world, has to pull an all-nighter alone looking through Jane's Armaments. Cortez just searches a slick, high-tech database.
  • Evil Counterpart: Cortez to Ryan. Cortez's female asset even describes him as a "Latin Jack".
  • Fake Kill Scare: The Coasties get a pirate to talk by blindfolding him and pretending to shoot the other one. His pal falls for it and blabs.
  • False Flag Operation: Several:
    • Cortez has several of his men ambush the Director of the FBI as he's visiting the country alongside the Ambassador, in order to make the U.S. government more determined to wipe out Escobedo. Double-whammy, the Cartel soldier that leads the motorcade into the ambush was dressed as a motorcycle cop.
    • The Special Forces soldiers waging war on the Cartels make it look like it's hostile action from each other. Cortez still figures out that it's the Americans because, try as they might, the soldiers are unable to police all of the evidence (he finds a 5.56mm bullet case in one of the firefight scenes and the laser-guided bomb that they used at one point left behind chemical traces of incredibly expensive military-grade explosives and cellulose of the bomb's specialized casing).
  • Family Friendly Strip Club: Ryan and Clark find their freelance helicopter pilot passed out drunk in a strip club. Of course, no nudity is seen due to the film's PG-13 rating.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Bob Ritter is this in the film; here he is ruthless, scheming, unconcerned with the loss of civilian life in their unauthorized actions in Colombia, and ultimately complicit in not just the abandonment of the soldiers but also in trying to convince John Clark that Ryan was to blame for their operation being discovered.
  • Friendly Sniper: Domingo "Ding" Chavez is very affable, and is an extremely skilled sniper.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • Clark seems to be the only character who knows what kind of movie he's in. When Cutter and Ritter cut off his troops from satellite and air support, they blame Ryan for it and assure Clark that they will be restored as soon as he's out of the picture. Clark promptly kidnaps Ryan and pretends to have killed him... and Cutter and Ritter fail to live up to their end of the bargain, confirming for him what's really going on. Clark is also the only character who points out, right from the beginning, that the operations in Colombia are a massive political scandal waiting to happen (though since he's not a Washington figure and doesn't even live in America, it's not his problem).
    • In lesser measure, Ritter himself. He never tries to talk his superiors out of the illegal operation they're having him run, but he at least has the good sense to demand a written authorization from Cutter in order to cover his own ass.
  • "Get out of Jail Free" Card: Ritter refers to the document from Cutter authorizing the anti-Cartel operations as this.
  • Gilligan Cut: Jack Ryan knocking on the cartel boss's door :
    Clark: What are you going to do ? Knock on his door?
    *knock-knock*
    Jack: Mornin', I'd like to see Ernesto Escobedo. I don't have an appointment. (flashes his CIA business card)
  • GPS Evidence: Both Jack and Chavez figure out that there's American spec-ops raising hell in Colombia from checking what was left behind of a "car bomb" blowing up one of Escobedo's houses in their own way (Jack analyzes a satellite photo of the blast crater, Chavez has a chemist look over some soot) and find anomalies (Jack sees the crater is too clean and shaped incorrectly for a "car bomb" and the chemist notices there's cellulose and the leftover chemicals of a highly expensive military-grade explosive, which only governments could afford), which leads back to the specifics of a laser-guided bomb with cellulose cover, only used by the U.S.
  • Hauled Before A Senate Sub Committee: Jack testifies before Congress as Acting CIA Director twice.
    • The first time is to obtain funding for anti-drug operations in Colombia, which he promises under oath will not be used for military operations. Gilligan Cut to the Special Forces team being inserted in Colombia, indicating that Cutter and Ritter siphoned the funds to run it.
    • The credits roll on a second one after Ryan refuses to comply with President Bennett's attempt to blame Ryan and the deceased Admiral Greer for the illegal Special Forces campaign against the Escobedo cartel.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Ritter and Cutter allow Clark to dispose of Ryan as he sees fit for threatening to blow the lid on the operation. Clark doesn't however, and informs Ritter of his death right in front of Ryan. Queue Death Glare when Ryan returns to the States, alive and well.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Played for laughs, with the password being guessed before the techie's boss even managed to leave the room.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Clark and Chavez. For Clark, while it's realistic that his elite military unit would have such high-quality military-grade accessories, the real thing doesn't look much like the one he's using, and even the well-muffled shot would still sound like a loud cough rather than the soft squeak it makes when he fires it. Same for Chavez's shots, the sound is too soft and not cracking.
  • Honey Trap: Felix Cortez seduces Moira Wolfe (the unmarried middle-aged secretary of FBI Director Emil Jacobs) and extracts sensitive information about the FBI from her.
  • Hypocrite: Jack is very quick to put his foot down when the President begins to lecture him on acting by Revenge Before Reason. This ending scene even has shades of the subtrope You Are What You Hate, with the President not being conscious that he murdered people as much as Escobedo did. It's also intended as a Does This Remind You of Anything?, to analyze many modern political issues.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Cortez is ultimately gunned down by Chavez, the only soldier to escape the ambush on his unit unscathed.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The "Clear and present danger" doctrine in law. Title Dropped. Interestingly, it is related to the First Amendment freedom of speech provision and has little, if any, relevance to the plot.
  • Mood Whiplash: When one drug lord shows up in an outlandish big-wheel truck, everyone's giggling at it including the sniper team painting it for a laser-guided bomb. But then Chavez notices there are kids playing within the blast radius...
  • My Card: Jack Ryan has some business cards done up showing that he's the acting CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence, which comes in handy on a couple of occasions, like turning up to see Colombia's most powerful drug lord without an appointment or buying a $2 million helicopter.
    Jack: Do you take a Company cheque?
  • Neck Snap: Moira Wolfe gets it from Cortez once she is no longer useful to him.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Cutter and Ritter authorize the termination of Clark's team after striking a deal with Cortez to cover up their operation, and deliberately mislead Clark into killing Ryan to silence him as he had already threatened to go public with what he knew. Instead, Clark becomes suspicious and with Ryan's help saves the surviving soldiers while also killing Cortez, leaving Ryan with a bevy of new dirt on them when he returns to the US to force the President to answer for the conspiracy.
  • Not So Different:
    • The President and Escobedo have a lot in common. They're both important leaders with more power than sense, who are prone to acting impulsively and without considering the consequences. This is what triggers the events of the movie in the first place - in the President's case, starting an illegal war with the Colombian cartels in a moment of rage after they murder a college friend of his, in Escobedo's case, murdering said friend without worrying that he has connections in high places. It's even weaponized against Escobedo - Cortez is able to stage the incredibly public and brazen murder of American officials, knowing that all the other Cartel leaders will believe Escobedo did it because it's just the kind of thing he'd do.
    • Ritter and Cortez, both ruthless career intelligence officers working, somewhat to their chagrin, for a Pointy-Haired Boss they don't particularly respect. Though only one of them does anything about it.
    • Jack Ryan and John Clark. The former is a Lawful Good public servant who's furious when he discovers that his CIA colleagues and political superiors have started an illegal war, the latter is an off-the-books agent who's neck deep in the illegal war from the very start. Both of them, however, are willing to do whatever it takes to rescue the surviving American soldiers after they're cut off and betrayed.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Peter, the tech person who hacks into Hardin's floppy disk (using a combination of parts of birthdays from Hardin's family to unlock the disk) and later helps Ryan remote-hack into Ritter's private terminal, correctly guesses Ryan's ATM code is his birthday in reverse.
    Dan Murray: You've got to change your ATM code.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: A minor example. In the book, written in 1989, the villains are the Medellin Cartel, with Escobedo being a thinly veiled expy of its leader Pablo Escobar. The movie came out five years later, however, by which point Escobar was dead and the Medellin Cartel in ruins. So the villains are changed to the Cali Cartel, Medellin's main rival, which were still powerful in 1994.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ryan opens up with this when he confronts the President on his actions in Colombia, vowing to see that he answers for all of it.
  • Revenge Before Reason:
    • The president's desire to get back at the cartels for killing his friend results in him authorizing an illegal military operation that results in the deaths of innocent civilians and American soldiers. It gets worse when Cortez stages that ambush killing the FBI Director.
    • Mirrored by Escobedo, who starts the whole sorry mess by killing the U.S. businessman embezzling him... plus the man's whole family, unconcerned that the businessman's friend - the U.S. PRESIDENT - might react to it in the wrong way.
    • Played with when Ryan reveals to Escobedo how Cortez was betraying the Cartel and his own boss, knowing full well Escobedo's rage would turn on Cortez and help Ryan recover the imprisoned covert troops.
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: The story of Jack Ryan's life. Man was asked to help convince Congress to provide funding for an intelligence operation and next thing he knows he's helping destroy a Cartel and exposing misdeeds from the President.
  • Running Gag: Every time a price is mentioned regarding the costs of a CIA operation, someone mentions "plus change."
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: The Cartel slaughtering a man who stole from them in the prologue.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: President Bennett. Subverted in that, no, he really doesn't. When Congress lays down the law, even he has to listen and when he doesn't everything goes south.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: At the end, the President tries to point out to Ryan that his efforts to expose the operation and the White House's involvement will come to nothing. The country can't handle another scandal that taints the presidency, so the blame will shift to Greer, while Cutter and Ritter will get a little, but also lucrative jobs in the private sector. 'The old Potomac two step'. Ryan's response?
    Jack: I'm sorry, Mr. President. I don't dance.
  • Signature Item Clue: Felix Cortez becomes suspicious that the series of attacks on the Medellin Cartel aren't just guerrillas after finding a stray shell casing from one of the US Special Forces' team's M16s at one of the attack sites.
  • Small Role, Big Impact:
    • FBI Director Jacobs only gets a few minutes of screentime, but his murder at the hands of Cortez's hitmen serves to dramatically escalate tensions with the cartels.
    • Moira Wolfe may also count, having carelessly leaked information to Cortez that allowed for the aforementioned ambush.
  • Smug Snake: A few, most notably Felix Cortez and Bob Ritter (who gets his ""Get out of Jail Free" Card" document signed by the President from his safe, shows it to Jack, then mentions that he should start to memorize the phrase "I have no recollection of that knowledge (that involved RECIPROCITY and the many dead people it caused)" and finally even says Ryan and Greer are expendable pawns.)
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: During Adm. Greer's funeral, America the Beautiful is overlaid over John Clark's team getting ambushed in Colombia.
  • Spared By Adaptation: In the novel, Admiral Cutter commits suicide rather than be prosecuted and sent to federal prison. Here he lives to the end of the movie and it's implied that he'll have to face the music along with Ritter.
  • Spy Speak
    Commando: The chicken is in the pot.
    Clark: Cook it.
    BOOM
  • The Starscream: Col. Cortez wanted to take over the Escobedo Cartel from a long time ago. The events of the story give him an opportunity by selling his boss out to the Americans.
  • Stealth Pun: Ryan offers the man selling a helicopter his card which says he's in the CIA and asks if he takes a company cheque. "The Company" is a well-known nickname for the CIA.
  • Title Drop: Said by the President as he explains (but can't really outright say) that he wants everybody in the Cartel involved with the death of his friend blown away and he's ordering the CIA to do it.
  • 21-Gun Salute: During cuts between Admiral Greer's funeral and the ambush of the special forces. It comes to a head as the three volleys are fired at the funeral, cut against the distress calls and machine gun fire of the battle.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Moira Wolfe, who Cortez romances to usurp information from her as she is the FBI director's secretary. It is her request to see him for the weekend when mentioning Jacobs' departure from the US that allows Cortez to stage the ambush that would kill him, dramatically escalating the tensions even after she herself is murdered.
  • Who Dares?:
    The President: How dare you come in here and lecture me?
    Jack Ryan: How dare you, sir!
    The President: How dare you come into this office and bark at me like some little junkyard dog? I am the President of the United States!
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The drug cartel intelligence officer Felix Cortez snaps Moira Wolfe's neck after getting from her the information his employer desired. Ironically, it leads to him getting discovered because the FBI agents investigating the murder find a recording of his voice on Moira's answering machine.

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