Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Sum of All Fears

Go To
"You don't fight Russia and America. You get Russia and America to fight each other... and destroy each other."
"This no longer has anything to do with Baltimore! Now it's about fear! Our fear of your missiles, your fear of our subs, fear of being weak, fear of making a mistake... the same fear of the other guy that had us build these goddamn bombs in the first place!"
Jack Ryan

The Sum of All Fears is a 2002 movie adaptation of the novel of the same name by Tom Clancy. The first Jack Ryan film since Clear and Present Danger in 1994, it acts as a Continuity Reboot of the franchise.

The basic plot centers around a rogue nuclear bomb being developed by a terrorist organization and detonated in an American city to incite mistrust between the United States and Russia to the point of open war. CIA analyst Jack Ryan and his network of friends on both sides rush to track down the actual group responsible before the nuclear option becomes real.

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson, the movie stars Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan, with a supporting cast including Morgan Freeman, Bridget Moynahan, James Cromwell, Ciarán Hinds, and Liev Schreiber. It is notable for changing the villains from Arab terrorists to Neo-Nazis while forwarding the timeline to 2002. It also re-envisions Ryan as a young analyst in a form of Continuity Reboot/Prequel from the previous movies, and has him dealing with his first foray into the real inner workings of the CIA.

The Sum of All Fears contains examples of:

  • Action Duo: Jack Ryan and John Clark during the mission in Ukraine. The former is just a CIA analyst with no recent military training while the latter is Cabot's go-to operator. It's implied that Clark only really takes Ryan along as payback for missing out on the White House Correspondent's Dinner, but Ryan's sudden ability to speak Ukranian comes in handy.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Very much so. Elizabeth Elliot and her romantic subplot with the President are nowhere to be found, no ground battle in Berlin or sinking of an American SSBN, Ryan is a rookie analyst rather than Deputy Director of the CIA, and more. Clancy said in the DVD Commentary "I wrote the book they ignored."
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • President Fowler is nowhere near as unpleasant as his book counterpart. He still makes rash decisions, but they are based on logical reasons given to him by his advisers. In the book, Fowler ends up resigning from office after nearly nuking an innocent city for revenge, while here, he ends the crisis when given a chance and later enacts anti-nuclear weapons treaties with Russia. On a smaller note, he's a good sport about being booed by the crowd at the Superbowl and is concerned for the people while he's being hurried to safety.
    • Cabot as well. In the book Cabot is an incompetent asshole who leaves all of the work to Ryan and a total pushover. Here, Cabot is a mentor towards Ryan, and is one of Ryan's biggest allies.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Andrey Narmonov was renamed "Nemerov" in this movie.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the book Admiral Dubinin was loyal to the Russian government, A Father to His Men, and just as in the dark to the conspiracy as anybody else. Here, Dubinin is a member of the conspiracy who willingly helps excaberate tensions by sending fighter planes to bomb a U.S. warship.
  • Age Lift: In the novel, Jack Ryan is the CIA's Deputy Director, having worked his way up through the ranks in Clancy's previous works. Here, he's a young, up and coming analyst who gets his first field assignment partway through the film.
  • Artistic License – Geography:
    • The football game takes place as a fictional stadium called the "Baltimore Forum" outside downtown. In real-life such a stadium would not exist since the M&T Bank Stadium is right within walking distance.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • A sneak attack against an American carrier in the North Atlantic is not an easy feat. In a real life scenario the bombers would be detected from a great distance by early warning systems and there would be patrol craft on station to intercept. The mandatory and numerous carrier escorts would provide a SAM screen and a Macross Missile Massacre much more intense than the one shown in the movie would be needed to penetrate it. Tom Clancy calls the director out on stuff like this in the audio commentary. Strong, but not mean.
    • Also, the missiles on the movie poster are surface-to-air missiles designed for shooting down airplanes; they are not nuclear ones.
    • It's exceedingly unlikely the injured and rather deranged looking Ryan could land at the Pentagon (under high alert and with a nuke having detonated nearby) in a Maryland State Police helicopter, rush through the metal detector and frantically try to use Cabot's entry card at the gate which repeatedly fails, prompting the security guard to demand to see the card which Ryan repeatedly refuses... being allowed entry once the card works.
  • Artistic License – Physics: At the hospital, there's no delay between the nuke flash and the blast wave hitting. This would mean the hospital is right next to the explosion and would have been destroyed. Additionally, the TV in the hospital somehow shows the flash slightly before the flash hits the hospital. Even if somehow the camera could have detected the flash and it be transmitted and shown by the TV, it could not do this faster than the flash arrives at the hospital because the flash travels at the speed of light.
  • Award-Bait Song: If We Could Remember by Yolanda Adams.
  • Berserk Button: Russian leader Nemerov flips out when the U.S. president mentions Russian atrocities committed in Chechnya.
    • Quite a nice and somewhat realistic moment, as he immediately retorts with a Whataboutism line.
  • Big Bad: Dressler is the one that ultimately arranged for the Baltimore attack and for US and Russian forces to go to war against one another, in an attempt to trigger World War III.
  • Board to Death:
    Monceau: In light of the week's events, I am grown uncomfortable with this plan. So I must beg your leave, gentlemen.
    Dressler: Herr Haft will help you out.
    Haft: Your scarf, monsieur. (strangles him)
  • The Cameo: Producer Mace Neufeld as Correspondence Dinner chairman.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Jack needs to cancel his date, but knows he can't be honest about why he's doing it. Cabot encourages him to tell her the truth. She immediately takes it as a lie and hangs up on him, much to Cabot's amusement.
    • Jack again falls victim to this trope in the second half of the film, this time with the stakes far higher. Having learned the true origin of the nuclear weapon that devastated Baltimore, he tries desperately to convince the President and his cabinet of his findings. Having been unimpressed by Ryan on previous occasions, they quickly tune - and then shut - him out.
  • Chain Pain: Ryan, during his fight with Haft.
  • Danger Room Cold Open: The DEFCON 1 situation at the beginning is a drill.
  • Death by Adaptation: In the novel, the Druse farmer survived and wasn't mentioned at all after the bomb was recovered by the Arab terrorists. In the movie, he dies of radiation poisoning from the bomb, but not before giving Clark some vital information. Also his son, who died in the Yom Kippur War in the movie, but survived in the book, albeit as a cripple from his APC getting blown up.
    • Cabot also survived the novel, and was never even close to the nuclear bomb. Here, he is one of the casualties of the nuclear explosion.
    • Dubinin is assassinated by Russian agents for his role on the conspiracy.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Desk jockey Jack Ryan tries to fight a big buff Neo-Nazi thug. Goes about as well as you'd expect.
  • Disney Owns This Trope: The football game at which the nuke is detonated is never identified by name in the film; the novel makes it clear that it's the Super Bowl.
  • Diplomatic Back Channel: After receiving some information on the Russian nuclear facility he and Jack were visiting, Bill Cabot explains that he has a source in the Kremlin that he talks to in order to keep the back channels open. After Cabot is killed during the attack on Baltimore, this contact is revealed to be Anatoli Grushkov, who offers to keep talking to Jack, to keep the back channels open in the hopes of staving off disaster.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: The game adaptation is really just Ghost Recon with new levels, characters, story, etc.
  • The Dragon: Haft, a Neo-Nazi assassin who works directly for Dressler.
  • Expy: CIA director William Cabot is a similar substitute for Admiral Greer from The Hunt for Red October; both are African-American Reasonable Authority Figures with high clearance who introduce Ryan into decision-making circles. Cabot is more cynical.
  • External Combustion: Subverted. Dressler is smart enough to have his bodyguard start the car first, and the poor guy obviously knows why. This is why the assassin wires the bomb into the cigarette lighter, since Dressler is a chain smoker. In a nice touch of irony, the bodyguard survives, having been sent off by Dressler to gather his things.
  • False Flag Operation: The terrorists plan to provoke a war between the United States and Russia by first nuking an American city and then getting a rogue Russian general to order an attack on a US aircraft carrier. They very nearly succeed; only Ryan's last minute intervention in an extremely tense hotline conversation, laying out all the evidence of the conspiracy, prevents World War III from erupting.
  • Fatal Family Photo: The fighter pilot in the opening sequence has a photo wedged in the instrument panel of his cockpit. It comes loose and falls the the floor, and the pilot is reaching for it when the SAM missile blows him out of the sky. In the audio commentary Clancy points out that the scene demonstrates why pilots in Real Life aren't allowed to stick up mementos in their cockpit.
  • The Gadfly: Cabot deliberately tricks Jack into making himself look like a liar to his girlfriend. Then he makes up for it by getting them passes to the White House Correspondence Dinner.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    Clark: Suit up!
    Ryan: Clark, no! Clark! NO!
    Clark and Ryan speeding across the reservoir
  • Great Offscreen War: The conflict in Chechnya is often referred to, but never shown on-screen.
  • Irony: A Neo-Nazi organisation is in possession of a nuclear weapon originally possessed by the Israelis.
  • Make the Bear Angry Again: Part of the planning of the antagonists is to get the US and Russia into a shooting war.
  • Meaningful Name: Dressler is just one graphy away of Anton Drexler, the founder of the Nazi Party that was hijacked by Adolf Hitler and pushed away into irrelevance. Dressler in the movie criticizes Hitler as having hijacked and denied Fascism its rightful place in the world as a result of his own shortcomings.
  • Mythology Gag: The absent in the novel Tupoloev Backfire attack on the U.S. carrier is transplanted from Clancy's Red Storm Rising, which technically is not part of the Ryanverse.
  • National Anthem: Performed before the Super Bowl. Particularly unusual is that the performance uses the lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner's fourth verse.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • If in the novel Narmonov was a Mikhail Gorbachev's expy, in the movie Nemerov is a Vladimir Putin's expy, and his predecessor, President Zorkin, was a Boris Yeltsin's expy.
    • Besides Anton Drexler, Austrian billionaire and neo-Nazi Richard Dressler resembles Jörg Haider, an Austrian politician who was Governor of Carinthia and whose parents had been early members of the Austrian Nazi Party (DNSAP, the Austrian affiliate of the NSDAP, the German Nazi Party).
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Ryan vs. Haft. Ryan nearly gets his ass handed to him, and just barely manages to beat him by nearly hanging him with a chain.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We don't actually see the bomb detonate, only the shockwave from the blast.
  • Oh, Crap!: Cabot when he realizes that there's a nuclear bomb at the football game where the president is.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: The Mission, though it sounds more of a One-Woman Wail it has Latin lyrics.
  • One-Woman Wail: The Mission.
  • Precision F-Strike: Given the movie's rating, the one use of the F-Bomb is given to the President, in the aftermath of the attack on Baltimore. Discussed in the DVD commentary, where the original cut had two, and given that they could only keep one in a PG-13 movie, they decided to let the President use it.
  • Pretext for War: The villains plan revolves around making a nuke that looks Russian, and then detonating it on American soil, thus getting the two superpowers to launch attacks against one another.
  • Prevent the War: The villains are attempting to provoke a war between the USA and the Russians by detonating a nuclear bomb at the Super Bowl, and by instigating another attack; in the book, East Germans disguised as Russian commanders get the Russian tanks to fire at the American tanks near Berlin, in the movie, a well-bribed Russian air force general instructs his air wing to attack a US aircraft carrier. Jack Ryan and John Clark have to find out what really happened before one side starts nuking the other.
  • Proscenium Reveal: The film opens with the US President seemingly in the act of ordering a nuclear strike; when he is interrupted by a call from his wife, it is quickly revealed that he is participating in a training exercise.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: One of the conspirators disagrees with the Neo-Nazis' murderous plan and attempts a gentleman's exit. He soon learns it is not an option.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: The antagonists. Notable in that we see more of the upper-crust expensive-suit-wearing leadership sipping fine wine in a tastefully-decorated European townhouse than their head-shaved, Swastika-tattooed wife-beater-clad underlings scurrying around in a backwoods paramilitary camp.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: In the film's finale, all of the major conspirators are discreetly hunted down and assassinated by Russian and American agents.
  • Sacrificial Lion: William Cabot is killed two-thirds of the way through the movie.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Catherine Muller, who has little bearing on the plot.
  • Scenery Gorn: Only lightly played - after Baltimore is nuked, the only long shot we see is of a mushroom cloud rising through the dusty fog kicked up by the shockwave. The explosion itself is mostly seen from the ground or helicopter level. But there are a number of scenes in the outskirts where generic streets are on fire, emergency vehicles are flying around, and chaos generally reigns.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Slave to PR: Nemirov isn't behind the attacks, but he can't just admit that without conceding that portions of his military are going rogue. Ryan has to point out subtle tactical choices which are hinting at the situation without broadcasting it to the world.
  • Superweapon Suspense Subversion: The film opens with the President and his advisors preparing to order a nuclear strike until they are interrupted by a phone call from his wife; he immediately stops to take the call, and soon after ends what is revealed to have been just an exercise, wryly asking if they can continue "some other time..." This scene is echoed later, when the President and his cabinet are again seen working through the procedures to order a launch... only now Baltimore has been nuked, Russian and American forces have engaged each other, and the tension in the room makes it clear that this time it's very much for real.
  • Take a Third Option: The Secretary of Defense wants to Nuke 'em, the Secretary of State says it's "not reasonable!". A few minutes later, they agree to a conventional attack on the airbase that launched the attack on the carrier.
  • Take Me Out at the Ball Game: The plot hinges on a nuclear bomb smuggled into and detonated at a football game the President is attending.
  • Talking through Technique: When satellite photographs show Russian tanks still parked at their bases and not mobilized, Jack theorises that this inaction is a message from the Russian President, firstly affirming that he does not have warlike intentions, and secondly quietly stating that he did not order the recent attacks.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The villains. Here, they are noticeably all successful businessmen and politicians.
  • World War III: What the villains are trying to instigate, and the protagonist is trying to prevent.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Spassky, Orlov and Milinov are killed once they've built the bomb.