DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of The Sum of All Fears, Bad Company, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Minority Report, Déjà vu, Next, K19: The Widowmaker, Strange Days, The Day After (and Testament, On the Beach), Das Boot

 

Title:  The Sum of All Fears

Release Date:  2002

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time:  120 minutes

MPAA Rating:  PG-13

Distributor and Production Company:  Paramount

Director; Writer: Phil Alden Robinson, wr: Paul Attansio, Daniel Pyne; music, Jerry Goldsmith

Producer: Mace Nuefeld. Ex Prod. Tom Clancy, based on novel by Tom Clancy

Cast: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Live Schreiber, Alan Bates, Philip Barker Hall, Colm Feore, Ron Rikfin, Bruce McGill 

Technical: Panavision 2.3 to 1, full DTS

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  terrorism

Review:

 

Baltimore is Missing!”  Imagine getting on an Acela Amtrak train in Washington’s Union Station, riding for 39 miles or so, coming out from the Baltimore Harbor tunnel and finding devastation and no city. Then you regress into a more primitive society, become a slave, then a puppet.  Such was a dream that I had a couple years ago, and I fantasized a hit horror comedy movie for the Lagoon and Uptown here in Minneapolis. The dream was a joke at work.

 

No more. Part of Baltimore really is missing (and I don’t mean a SAS dataset with a variable with no value) in this film, after a small nuke goes up at the Super Bowl, in the Harbor area, near Camden Yards. Well, it wipes out an area a little bigger than Ground Zero in New York. They really pulled it off in this movie. The footing—first a chopper blow out of the air by the blast, then cars blown off of I-97, then the dust, then the mushroom cloud, and the fractured Baltimore skyline.  The Bank of America building {it was NationsBank, then Maryland National, then American Security.. that chain of mergers and layoffs that I know so well) is there.  But the triage in the blast zone, the burn victims, the medical tents, all of this is graphic.

 

The  nuke serves an early 90s novel by Tom Clancy, when the perspective on the threats was different and now seems off-center. Neo-Nazi terrorists steal a missing nuke from the remnants of 1973 Arab-Israel war (remember the oil embargo and gas lines!!) and use a nuclear explosion to try to force an escalation and all out nuke war between the U.S. and an newly nationalistic and maybe neo-communist Russia.  The Chechyna part is right. And the Russian politics might be right, as senior agent played by Morgan Freeman says to his brilliant protégé Dr. Ryan (Ben Affleck(, “deniability.”  

 

Of course, the 21st Century threat now seems to be that militant or radical Islamic terrorists would use suitcase nukes or dirty bombs to quickly destroy American society or perhaps to blackmail American foreign policy. Now the ads for the movie claim that 1 out of 27000 nukes is missing. Really, it’s about 80 suitcase nukes that are missing, although the tritium core triggers have probably aged to the point that they could not be detonated.  The Bush administration was very nervous about the release of this movie on 5/31/2002, particularly as it seems tha Al Qaeda might try to stage a terrorist attack in India to start an all out war (perhaps nuclear) between India and Pakistan. All of this is pretty horrible stuff. Now, the film does have an inappropriately happy ending: Dr, Ryan gets engaged to his surgeon girl friend near the White House, with no mention of the civil disorder maybe 30 miles away (martial law, perhaps, with radiation sickness and enormous casualties and market disruption; it is not life as usual after a nuclear attack.) When I saw the movie in suburban Minneapolis, there was mostly a young adult crowd, and a large one, but nobody seemed entertained. The crowd was very quiet and somber leaving the theater.

 

The other key concept in the screenplay was “information.”  At the film’s climax, Dr. Ryan breaks through Pentagon security because, “You are about to base your decision on some really bad information.” He pontificates for a moment about family values but then convinces the panicking president and military brass that the nuke really did come from neo-Nazi terrorists and that Russia’s “deniability” is truly viable. So Ryan saves the world. Okay, Affleck comes across here as the uncomfortable James Bond type, the ex-military intellectual with a Ph. D. who is uncomfortable when asked to use (in Smallville parlance) his “abilities” in a clandestine mission. But he saves the world with his mind and his literary outspokenness—after his mentor is always trying to get him to keep his mouth shut in meetings.

 

There was a scene involving cryptography, where emails are displayed along with the encrypted translations, which looked like strings of special Greek or Cyrillic characters, sometimes browsed by Internet Explorer with a crossed-out effect.  I wonder if this is how it really happens.

 

Oh well, this is only a movie. Or is it? The title of the movie seems to need the Greek letter Sigma (or maybe a calculus integral symbol) as part of its logo.  In the non-Euclidean world, sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

 

A twin movie for this, released by Touchstone and produced Jerry Bruckheimer films, is Bad Company. And this is a “lesser film” for Bruckheimer (director, Joel Schulmacher). Anthony Hopkins is codgerly and crusty enough as the Hannibal-like CIA mentor to the black rapper played by Christ Rock, who is “drafted” into the CIA when his unknown twin brother is killed in a black op. So his job is to go to Prague and track down some more nuclear terrorists, this time with Serbian connections. Well, the terrorists somehow get the suitcase nuke back to this country through customs, and Grand Central Station get evacuated before last second heroics by Rock (he remembers things with his Washington Square Park chess games—maybe he plays the Benko Gambit) as the timer runs down. Now, the problem here is that the gravity of the subject matter is undermined by the rather silly, funky characters, designed to beef up the attendance numbers and video sales. This just doesn’t go with comedy. They do show a simulated nuke attack around Patterson, NJ (where some of Al Qaeda lived, remember), but that’s not real, even relative to the movie.

 

The other companion to “Sum” is Universal’s The Bourne Identity, directed by Doug Liman (118 minutes), based on Robert Ludlam’s bestseller. This is more like a Breshnev-era flick. Okay, Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne, the disconnected assassin sent illegally to a rogue state by CIA black ops. (Note: President Bush seems to have authorized just such an action now against Sadam Hussein). He washes up on a fishing boat with amnesia, but still capable of doing everything.  It’s hard to grasp how you can be who you are but not remember who you are.

 

Anyway, it turns into a road movie, with German actress Franka Potente (“Run Lola Run”). Damon plays superman, all right, with spider-man escapes and then some martial arts. In most of his roles, Damon comes across as the heterosexual equivalent to QAF’s Justin Taylor, with this boundless energy to master everything. There is this story that the director pulled up Damon’s t-shirt an peeked at his always hairless chest and said, “you are going to the gym.” Not sure I believe that he needed to.

 

Damon was on “Good Morning America” the week of his premiere, and when asked to identity his favorite book, he just answered, “the plays of William Shakespeare,” because Shakespeare could gab so much. Oh well, I used the honor speech from Hamlet as my epigraph in “Do Ask Do Tell.”

 

The location photography, especially the grays and blues of Paris, was stunning. This was the Paris that I walked around in May 2001. I think I spotted the exact hotel that I stayed in.

 

The screenwriting was especially tight, with a provocation in every scene to keep the audience glued. At one scene where the tag team arrives at a French farm house, a little girl says, “I have to go pee,” just to keep the script moving. 

 

The sequel is The Bourne Supremacy (2004, dir. Paul Greengrass, novel by Ludlum) has Bourne (again, Matt Damon) living under a pseudonym in a kind of witness protection, but he has to come out of his shell and become an assassin to survive after a botched CIA operation.

 

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007, dir. Paul Greengrass, novel by Ludlum) continues the saga, with a new black ops operation determined to eliminate Bourne before he finally figures out how he was recruited and his old identity erased. The movie chases through Moscow, London, Berlin, Paris, Morocco, and New York City with one of the best car chases ever filmed, until the final showdown. I saw some filming in Washington (blog http://billsmoviereviews.blogspot.com/2007_03_01_archive.html      look at March 3 and picture on March 5) but the outside of the Prettyman Courthouse didn’t seem to appear. A terrific ride that speaks for itself. Matt Damon says he has slowed down physically at 36, but it doesn’t show. With Julia Stiles, David Strathaim, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney as the evil doctor, Joan Allen, Daniel Bruhl, Paddy Considine. The theme that a reporter (Considine) would be targeted for what he knows and may write is developed. 

 

Minority Report (2002, 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks, 145 min, R) , Steven Spielberg’s film noir/science fiction epic based on a 1954 short story by Philip K. Dyck (Blade Runner), starring Tom Cruise, Max Von Sydow, Samanta Morgan, and Mark Dickman, again brings up the question of how far we will go in squashing civil liberties for security. Here, it is 2054, and a few years earlier new biotechnology allowed the police to set up a “pre-crime” unit to apprehend people planning crimes for their thoughts.  (Maybe sounds like Gizmo, or holding American citizens indefinitely as unlawful comnatants? Or even the “civil” commitment of sex offenders and pedophiles, after they serve their statutory prison sentences, to mental hospitals effectively for life in some states, for crimes that they may commit.)  Thoughtcrimes” was the name of a chapter in Randy Shilts’s Conduct Unbecoming.  Legally, the idea that one can demonstrate a “propensity” to commit a future act come up in connection with gays in the military and the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, and it could come up in other areas, like with teachers working with minors. Here, the technology consists of using precogs (“precrimes”), autistic people kept in “altered states”—bathed in nutrients, to supply the intelligence. Once somebody is apprehended he gets warehoused in a prison structure that looks like a colony of honey cask ants. Spielberg said in an interview that he did not want to make a movie directly about 9-11, but this film certainly brings all the issues. There is no right to privacy in a world where mechanical spiders invade apartments to scan retinas.  

 

Déjà vu (2006, Touchstone/Jerry Brucheimer,/ScottFree dir. Tony Scott, 128 min, PG-13) “Already Seen” as translated literally. Ever had a since you’ve been in a situation before? The movie made me feel that. Denzel Washington (who else?) plays ATF agent Doug Carlin, assigned to investigate the terrorist bombing of a ship (USS Nimitz) in the Mississippi River through post-Katrina New Orleans, quickly finds that French Quarter local woman (Donna Patton) was murdered two hours ahead and burned to appear to be a victim from the ship. A right-wing Timothy McVeigh type Carroll Oerstadt (Jim Caviezel), had tried to buy a SUV and Carlin tracks him down, with the help of government satellite-Google Earth technology that records everything anyone does, even in their home, and makes it available a few days later as a kind of video game with spacefolding, Mobius strip technology. (The CIA used to brag back in the early 90s that it could really do this, and this was before it was easy to spy on people through the Internet; but the satellite stuff is really like a super Internet.) Now Carlin goes into the website (it looks like a super video game in the movie, with lots of details) of sorts, and finds he can change history and prevent the attack from happening. The spacefolding is a variation of the “pre-crime” idea in Minority Report. The film has spectacular footage of the post-Katrina Ninth Ward, with all the devastation (I personally visited the Love St. Canal area when I was in New Orleans in February). The overpasses over the river around I-10 are also shown, and they look real, where I was.  

 

Next (2007, Paramount / Revolution, dir. Lee Tamahori, story “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick, adapted story by Gary Goldman and Jonathan Hensleigh, 97 min, PG-13). Nicholas Cage plays Cris Johnson, who is certainly different with his “powers.” He can see the future a couple minutes into the future, out of self-preservation. He is a sensitive rather than assertive person, but makes a living as a magician in Las Vegas. (The movie opens with the show, which reminded me a little of “Atlantis” at the Luxor in 1997 when I was in Vegas). He disarms a robber in a casino, and the cops chase him instead. He is, or course, perfect at cards, and the casino security can’t prove that he is “card counting.” FNI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore, who looks like Jodie Foster here) tries to conscript him to stop a terrorist plot to blow up a suitcase nuke in Los Angeles. The script gives some discussion of how it was stolen from Russia (although it confuses the raw materials with the 84 nukes themselves), along the lines of “Last Best Chance.”   In the meantime, Cris has befriended Liz (Jessica Biel) in a coffee shop, and taken her out on an adventure near the Grand Canyon. The forces meet up, and there is an incredible sequence involving, say, gravitational potential energy in the Grand Canyon. Liz gets kidnapped by the terrorists, and then the movie plays with reality (call it alternative universes) and blows her up, and then blows up LA with the suitcase nuke (as in “24”) before a surprising plot twist. There is one scene where Cris is strapped and his thoughts are read with pupilometrics as in “The Parallax View.”

 

Now all of these forwards and backups on “reality” (like movie shoots) are annoying, and the concept of a story like this could be more effective if just treated dramatically. The movie has been criticized as humdrum, although the issues it raises are important. The morning of 9-11, around 6 AM or so, I had a dream of a nuclear attack in Washington, and was relieved when I woke up around 7 (CDT) to find it not real, but I felt that something was really wrong. History would change in 45 minutes. I even recall receiving an email a week before (while in Canada) that seemed to warn of an attack, and I thought it was spam. Then, the day after Labor Day 2001, Popular Science had a scary article warning that terrorists could pull of an EMP attack (gear would have to be protected by Faraday cages). Also, my book essay on terrorism was hacked in April 2002 at the exact point where I start the discussion of suitcase nukes. doaskdotell present link

Why was this film, from Revolution Studios, distributed by Paramount instead of Columbia (Sony)?

 

Cris, at one point, says that the future is changes once someone looks at it. That’s just part of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

 

I think “Next” was to be an Apple computer, too, and Nextel is a major cell phone company.  

 

K19: The WidowMaker was a Soviet sub in 1961 that parked itself within hailing distance of U.S. East Coast cities, some time before the Cuban Crisis, and it did make widows. When the nuclear reactor goes out of control, men repeatedly sacrifice themselves to radiation sickness desperately trying to prevent a meltdown and an explosion near a NATO base, maybe starting WWIII. The movie plays on the idea that military men are indeed called upon to make horrible sacrifices, while the skipper, played by “all American” Harrison Ford, refuses to accept moral dilemmas. Director Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days, 1995) manages to weave in some political history leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

Strange Days was quite captivating when I saw it, a few years before Y2K.  The film broke 20 minutes before the end, leaving me expecting a big payoff at the Y2K moment in downtown LA (not the right time for the Big Ben Clock). (I saw it a couple days later). Here ex-copy Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) thinks he has uncovered a police conspiracy from “virtual reality” discs that you play like Walkmen.  The movie title has a double in NBC “Discovery for Kids,” “Strange Days at Blake Holsey High”.

 

This is a good place to mention the 1982 television two-part miniseries The Day After, where the United States retaliates for a Soviet strike from a hidden missile silo in Lawrence, Ks, and Kansas City is destroyed (and people become translucent when hit by the blast). Jason Robards is one of the survivors in the worthless world that follows. Also, in 1983 there was a strong independent film, Testament (Paramount, American Playhouse), directed by Lynne Littman, which traces a suburban northern California family after San Francisco is destroyed by a surprised nuclear attack. The kids learn about the attack when a cartoon program is interrupted with a report of the attack on San Francisco while the dad is at work. The families cope for a while, as they gradually succumb to radiation poisoning. The movie is harrowing, with scenes of vomiting and sickness, yet Carol Wetherly (Jane Alexander) keeps the family together to the end.

 

In 1959, MGM released a 134-minute realization of Nevil Shute’s famous On the Beach, (dir. Stanley Kramer) where the residents of Australia wait to die from nuclear fallout after an atomic war. Gregory Peck commands the USS Sawfish (any relation to the Sunfish, which was a real submarine commissioned in 1963 – I actually boarded it in 1993!), which travels around the world and surfaces to look at a destroyed civilization. The movie misses the point of possible nuclear winter. The final scene has the famous “Waltzing Matilda” song on a deserted beach.  

 

Das Boot (“The Boat”, 1982, Columbia, dir. Wolfgang Petersen, novel by Lothar Buchheim, Germany) tells a harrowing story of U-boat submarine Nazi recruits during WWII, from the German side, an unusual experiment. The film was considered a major successful example of Dolby sound in its time.

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