After the success of The Hunt for Red October, another Tom Clancy adaptation was inevitable. This time focusing on a book that came before October and focusing more on the Jack Ryan character from the first film, Patriot Games has no real connections to October aside from the repeated characters. Although it didn’t perform as well domestically as the film before it, Patriot Games pulled more than enough crowds into theaters in 1992, with its R rating, two levels above the much tamer PG October, barely hindering its worldwide box office intake.
While in London for a vacation with his wife and daughter, Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) becomes involved in an incident that threatens the life of Lord Holmes (James Fox), a member of the Royal Family. Breaking up the attempt on his life, Ryan is wounded and hailed as a hero by the people of England and the United States, although repercussions of his involvement would soon follow. IRA member Sean Ryan (Sean Bean) begins to go after Ryan for killing his brother in the incident, threatening not only Ryan life but also his wife and daughters. What started out as a simple act of heroism would soon turn into a fight for his life and those around him as Ryan races against the clock to find his would-be killer.
Coming fresh off of The Hunt for Red October I was readily prepared for another, calmer film from the Tom Clancy series but instead I was thrown into a rather rapidly moving film that had me waiting to see what was next from scene to scene. I love a good thriller, especially one that has a revenge angle, and Patriot Games was about as perfect as they come. Great acting, great action and a great script made this film stand out from other early 90s action films of the same era; I didn’t even scoff at the dated technology presented in the film. Usually I’m first to laugh at the big monitors or slow moving computers, but I was so wrapped up in the rest of the film that the age of it all didn’t concern me in the least.
Also a change up from the last film was the replacement of actors for Jack Ryan. With a meatier role, and a film solely focused on the character, Harrison Ford took the role that was originally offered to him after Alec Baldwin was unable to return to reprise his role after getting on board with a Broadway play. I have to say I was a bit relieved, as Alec Baldwin isn’t an actor I can truly “believe” in a serious role; Ryan has a bit of a comedic side, but nothing like what Baldwin was exuding from the first film. Although Ford did a great job in the role of Ryan, I quickly noticed, especially in Clear and Present Danger, that the Jack Ryan character itself is very shallow. There’s no depth to the man; he’s well learned, can handle himself and loves his family but…really, that’s it. He’s a cookie cutter government man if there ever was one and he seems made more for the audience to relate to him in a “Yeah, I could be that guy!” type of way rather than a truly unique character all by himself.
This isn’t an entirely unpleasing element to the film, as it does help you get into the character a bit more if you can see yourself in him at times, but it does make for a very unappealing character when you get to become bored with him (see Clear and Present Danger). Still, the surrounding cast for Ryan is a real treat to see; whether it’s James Earl Jones reprising his role as Admiral James Greer or newcomer to the series Samuel L. Jackson as Lt. Cmdr. Robby Jackson as friend to Jack Ryan, the movie is kept alive with fresh faces and plenty of great talent on board. A young Thora Birch as the daughter of Ryan and Ryan’s wife, played by Anne Archer, are both exceptional in their roles and you genuinely don’t want any harm to come to them during the frantic highway sequence.
As previously mentioned, I always enjoy a good “revenge” film and the way Patriot Games executes itself is absolutely fantastic. I loved every minute of it and never once wondered when it might be over with. While its sequel felt a bit long, Patriot Games is every bit of my idea of a great action film and how it manages to maintain such a poor rating on IMDb is beyond me. It’s certainly not the best movie of its genre, but it is still a lot of fun to watch, as it mixes both the action element in with the believability that this is all actually possible, without any kind of crazy stunts or strange technology being worked in to make things graver than they need to be.
Easily my favorite of the Jack Ryan films, Patriot Games set the bar high for future films in the series, which is unfortunate as neither of the two that followed were able to equal the excitement and tension that this one presented. While I can respect the films that followed, Patriot Games is simply a fun and entertaining film that you can sit down and enjoy without too much worry. It’s a bit salty in the language department and it is every bit of the R movie that its rating suggests, so don’t expect it to be weak in the knees in the least. Patriot Games has staying power and unlike a lot of early 90s movies (action ones especially), I will be returning to this one without fail. Recommended.
Such strong praise for a film must be accompanied by a fantastic Blu-ray release. It’s a pity that no one at Paramount felt the same way, as I haven’t come across a transfer that looked this bad before. I’ll get it out of the way now: yes it’s better than its DVD counterpart, that’s a given. But in no way should it look this bad for a 1080p AVC encoded release. Everything about this release screams “generic”, from its standard Blu-ray case, grey washed disc art, usual Blu-ray insert (update your player!), simple menus and paltry selection of extras, but I had at least hoped for a transfer on par with The Hunt for Red October. I was gravely mistaken to hope for such a thing.
At first what I thought was weird scan lines on my television set turned out to be some weird screen-door effect over the majority of the film. I guess this is a side effect of too much DNR, which also shows up as an incredibly annoying waxed character look throughout the film. I’ve seen some films that lack character detail (most recently Dark City), but never anything that lasted for the entire film. They really wiped away a ton of detail with their restoration process and whoever quality checks these things needs to make sure he’s doing it on a big enough screen, as even on my 37” set it looked incredibly soft. Fortunately what the film lacks in video quality it makes up for in audio, as the accompanying English 5.1 TrueHD Dolby track really is quite a joy to listen to. There’s some surround usage and the sound effects come through nice and clear, as does the dialogue. It seems with every Blu-ray release that I’m impressed with, visually, a trio comes along that makes me wonder what the point of this format is if all we’re actually losing detail along the way.
A making of with a 2002 copyright from the “Special Edition” DVD release, “Patriot Games Up Close” (25:14) is one of only two extras on the set. The making-of is a nice piece, however, and it goes into depth about why Baldwin was replaced and includes interviews with cast and crew (including Ford, Archer and Jones). The other extra is the Theatrical Trailer (2:31), which his presented in 1080p and 5.1 sound. Interesting to note about this trailer…it looks a hell of a lot better than the actual film transfer. I was immediately disappointed upon playing this trailer as I saw how this film was likely supposed to look, instead of being filtered all to hell.
Ok so I may have over exaggerated on the transfer a bit. It’s not something incredibly terrible, but if you’re looking for an example of Blu-ray quality, this movie is far from it. It may be my favorite Jack Ryan film, but this one is without a doubt the least pretty of the four. Unless you have a thing for building up your Blu-ray collection, I’d just go for the original DVD release as you really aren’t going to get much by upgrading to this set or ponying up the extra cash for this edition. Skip It.
Patriot Games is now available on Blu-ray.