Thursday, November 28, 2019

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Patriot Games (1992)

The month of November 2019 was Harrison Ford month for the film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. The first movie we did was The Fugitive (podcast here), while the second one we did was Patriot Games. Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

Historian, retired CIA agent, and retired Marine Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is visiting Great Britain to lecture some Royal Navy students when he foils an attack on a British government official by members of a more militant Irish Republican Army faction, killing young terrorist Patrick Miller (Karl Hayden) in the process. Unfortunately Patrick's older brother Sean Miller (Sean Bean) survives the incident and vows revenge on the injured Ryan. Now we have a trans-Atlantic cat-and-mouse game, with the lives of Ryan's daughter Sally (Thora Birch) and pregnant wife Cathy (Anne Archer) at stake as well.

The Good

*Although I felt The Fugitive was dull in places, I didn't have that problem with Patriot Games. The movie moves along briskly and there's never a dull moment. They simplify a lot of the plot from the book (the IRA factionalism and ideology is downplayed, as I explain below, plus there's no scheme to recruit black militants to assist Miller's revenge) and that's a good thing.

*Sean Miller has a character arc, getting progressively more unhinged in his desire to kill Ryan even when it interferes with other IRA objectives. It's so obvious that I was wondering when his IRA bosses (the IRA was pretty organized for a terrorist group, run along rather military lines) were going to remove him from the mission or even straight-up kill him as a liability. He even straight-up calls the Ryans' house to taunt Jack about his injured daughter, for crying out loud. He's probably using up a lot of IRA funds on long-distance calls from Africa. Considering the IRA at least tried to look humanitarian (i.e. calling ahead before setting off their bombs), knife-twisting sadism by one of their operatives in an area where they had a lot of sympathy (New England and particularly Boston) is something that would really undermine the organization's goals and one hothead is ultimately expendable.

*As Nic pointed out in the podcast, the movie has an excellent roster of early 1990s actors. Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Sean Bean. Everybody does a great job, which logically means good direction as well.

(If you want to see good actors with bad direction look at pretty much everybody in Revenge of the Sith. Sorry George.)

*Although the movie doesn't go into nit-picky detail about the factionalism within the IRA or the IRA's exact beliefs (a lot of South Boston types naively sending money to Belfast would probably be horrified to find most IRA factions are varying degrees of Marxist and some just use "the revolution" as an excuse for criminal activity like drug-dealing), it does retain the book's subplot that Miller's crew is intent on setting up other members to be taken out by the British (or simply murdering them themselves) to strengthen their own position. It's very quick and subtle here--we're not talking about Game of Thrones-level intrigue with poverty and brogues.

The Bad

*There's a lot of, in TVTropes terms, Easy Logistics going on here. Sean and his merry band travel from England to America to what's pretty obviously Libya and back to America again pretty easily, despite being hunted by the British intelligence agencies and presumably American ones as well. Miller's initial escape from Britain is explained in-film and makes sense given the IRA's connections to Libya, but how does he make the other trips, especially so quickly? It seems like the movie takes place over the course of no more than a month or so, given how the elder Miller's trial takes place after the attack and before the real cat-and-mouse game starts.

*In the books the IRA's initial targets are pretty obviously Prince Charles and Princess Diana, although I don't think they're named. Given the fame of the two, one wonders why this was changed to some random British official who's a cousin of the royal family. Did they think the movie would suffer in Britain or Ireland if they depicted the IRA trying to abduct or kill the very popular Princess Diana?

*Jack Ryan is of Irish background and Catholic himself, something that's not really touched on in the film. Given Miller's hatred for Irish who work for the British government and an IRA spokesman's insistence he would commit suicide before selling out his "countryman" Miller, someone could at least touch on that even if they don't spend a lot of time on it. The IRA spokesman could try to play that card with Ryan and get shut down, perhaps in the "gun money" scene in the bar.

*As was pointed out in the podcast, the sole female IRA member Annette (Polly Walker) is explicitly described as being English, but we get little about her motivation. The IRA is easy for outsiders to romanticize given the historical mistreatment of the Irish by the British and how the Protestant majority of Northern Ireland mistreated the Catholic minority in recent years, so making her some kind of student radical who naively joined what she thought was some kind of liberation army and is now too deep to ever get out might've been interesting. Or if you want to plagiarize Leon Uris's Trinity, which is about the lead-up to the independence of (most of) Ireland in the 20th Century, she could have followed a boy into the struggle. Given the IRA's Marxism, there's also "the workingmen of the world have no country" anti-nationalism or she simply could be an extremist English Republican who just hates the monarchy. This isn't something that needs a lot of explanation--she could reference it in her conversations with the bookstore owner Dennis Cooley (Alex Norton), for example.

The Verdict

Definitely worth a watch. 9.0 out of 10.

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