Political Film Society - The Sum of All Fears

PFS Film Review
The Sum of All Fears


The Sum of All FearsWorld War III could emerge if a terrorist set off a nuclear bomb in the United States, which in turn became convinced that Russia was behind the plot. That is the premise in Tom Clancy's novel The Sum of All Fears, which director Phil Alden Robinson has now brought to the screen. As credits roll, we view scenes from the Yom Kippur War of 1973, including an Israeli nuclear bomb that was supposedly carried aboard a plane bound for an enemy target. When the plane is shot down, the undetonated bomb falls somewhere in a desert; sand covers the bomb until later someone digs up the weapon, which he sells to an arms merchant. When the film begins, CIA analyst Jack Ryan (played by Ben Affleck) and CIA Director Bill Cabot (played by Morgan Freeman) are on a trip to Russia to meet President Nemezov (played by Ciarán Hinds). Russia at the time is waging a war in Chechnya. Ryan learns that three Russian scientists are missing, but nobody else seems concerned. After their visit, the conflict in Chechnya involves a major chemical warfare offensive; although Ryan believes that the Russian military acted without consulting President Nemezov, senior advisers to President Fowler (played by James Cromwell) scoff at his assessment, based solely on his intuition that the Russian president is a peaceful man who cannot control his own military. Meanwhile, we view a German madman named Richard Dressler (played by Alan Bates), who is hatching a plot to inveigle the Americans and the Russians into annihilating each other so that Nazi Germany will reemerge as the new superpower. The plot involves American plutonium sent to Israel, which is diverted through various channels to Dressler, who has hired the three Russian scientists to activate the undetonated bomb, whence the bomb is enclosed in a cigarette vending machine that is imported into the port of Baltimore. After arrival in Baltimore, the machine goes to the Superbowl football stadium, timed to detonate during a game to be attended by President Fowler. However, the disappearance of the three Russian scientists puts Ryan hot on their trail, so in due course he learns that they have constructed the bomb, which is headed for Baltimore. Through channels he alerts President Fowler, who is whisked to safety just in time as the nuclear bomb actually detonates. Fowler's advisers then urge him to prepare for a response, as do President Nemezov's advisers. Unlike the cautious, methodical, step-by-step approach taken by President John Kennedy and Chairman Nikita Khrushchëv in the Cuban Missiles Crisis of 1962, the two leaders in The Sum of All Fears behave less rationally; not only is there is more time pressure to act quickly, but their advisers are putting their own egos ahead of the fate of the world. Meanwhile, Ryan believes that the bomb could not be of Russian origin, and evidence from debris confirms his hunch, so after communicating his finding to pigheaded American advisers who will not listen to him, he alerts Nemezov. Russia then pulls back, and the American president follows suit. At the end of the film, the two presidents sign an agreement to dismantle all nuclear weapons as soon as possible. As a terrifying scenario of what might conceivably happen so long as nuclear weapons remain on the planet, the Political Film Society has nominated The Sum of All Fears for an award as best film on peace for 2002. MH

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