When the president of Russia suddenly dies and is succeeded by a man about whom little is known, tension increases as old fears ignite new paranoia. Director of Central Intelligence Bill Cabot recruits a young analyst from the Russia desk, Jack Ryan, to supply insight and advice. Then the unthinkable happens: the capital of Chechnya is leveled by a nuclear bomb. America is quick to blame the Russians, and mistrust escalates despite Ryan's certainty that other players are at work. He is right. Terrorists bent on provoking open war between the two nations are moving behind the scenes to manufacture and escalate a conflict. When they successfully detonate a second bomb outside Baltimore during the Super Bowl, the world is pushed inexorably towards war... unless Ryan can supply the needed proof to stem the tide of disaster in time.
Given our national jitters after Sept. 11, the updated film adaptation of Tom Clancy's 1991 novel about a terrorist nuclear attack on Baltimore is inescapably gripping. But the scenario, in which cartoonish neo-Nazis carry out the secret attack hoping to draw Russia and the United States into war, is bogus. And Ben Affleck, the third actor to play Mr. Clancy's C.I.A. hotshot Jack Ryan in a Hollywood movie, lacks the gravitas for the role. Even so, the movie succeeds in churning up froth of suspense before finally collapsing into a swamp of sentimentality. — Stephen Holden
2002-05-31 | Stephen Holden | Read the New York Times Review of The Sum of All Fears