Patriot Games



Main Cast: Harrison Ford, Sean Bean

Director: Philip Noyce

I must have taken one too many Nembutal last night because I slept in until nearly call time for the final dress rehearsal of my new conception of Cabaret at the Bug Tussle Alabama Civic Light Opera. I hurriedly slapped on some makeup (complete with Lesterene Brand Luscious Lavender Lipstick), threw on a peignoir and hot footed it from the Super 8 motel where I am staying over to the theater. When I got there, everything was locked up tight and there was a notice tacked on the door stating that the production had been cancelled due to something called Corona Virus. I was a bit taken aback. Aren’t we show people troupers? I once performed the musical version of Hedda Gabler during a cholera outbreak in Uttar Pradesh during my famous Ibsen does India tour of the 70s (later an acclaimed PBS documentary). I immediately called Joseph, my manager asking him to explain and he told me that everything was closed and locked down throughout the country due to the danger to both performers and that I should return home to Casa Maine immediately.

Necessity is the mother of classic accessories.

I returned to the motel to pack my few scattered belongings into my fifty-seven pieces of matching Louis Vuitton and then called Melissa, my local chauffeur to please come get me and bring me to the Birmingham airport so I could catch the first flight possible back to LA. She told me she could not accommodate as she was busy social dancing. (The connection was not entirely clear). I wished her the best of luck with her foxtrot and began to consider my options. The desk clerk did not appear to speak English no matter how loudly and slowly I enunciated, most phone calls went straight to voice mail, and all of the local eateries appeared as deserted as Bubba Hyche’s garage and dinner theater. I therefore dragged my luggage down to the I-65 on ramp, piled it up, sat on top in a seductive pose with my skirts lifted above my ankle and proceeded to wait for a lift. I, like Blanche DuBois, have often depended upon the kindness of strangers.

To pass the time while waiting, I broke out my trusty iPad, brought up Netflix, and looked through the selection of movies for something that might offer me a slight diversion. My choice ended up being Patriot Games, the 1992 adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel with Harrison Ford as CIA analyst Jack Ryan. The film was originally conceived as a sequel to 1989’s The Hunt for Red October in which Alec Baldwin had played Ryan but studio politics and a chance for him to play Stanley Kowalski on Broadway led to a retooling and Ford taking over the role (Gates McFadden, who had played Mrs. Ryan in the original film was also replaced by Anne Archer). The IRA driven plot also led the original director, Irish American John McTiernan to withdraw being replaced with Philip Noyce. It was not an auspicious beginning for the film, especially when the novel’s author began to badmouth the project in the press, due to too many changes from the source material.

Patriot Games begins with Jack and Caroline Ryan, along with their adorable moppet Sally (a young Thora Birch) on vacation in London. While touring the city, Jack manages to thwart the kidnapping of a member of the Royal Family (as one often does) by Irish terrorists in which one of the bad guys is killed. His brother, who survives and is captured (Sean Bean), swears revenge against Ryan as he is led off to jail. The terrorist, of course, breaks out of jail and sails off to Libya on a tramp steamer (as one does) while his compatriots try various methods of offing Ryan and his family back in the US to no avail. It all leads to a ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ showdown with paint by numbers pacing and plotting. The film was a significant hit back in the day, helping cement Ford’s reputation as a mature action leading man and spawning a couple of other sequels.

From a vantage point of thirty years on, Patriot Games is competently made but has nothing particularly original to say. There have been dozens of action thrillers in the years since following the same general outlines of terrorists endangering and then being thwarted by heroic Americans. And whether they’ve starred Ford or Bruce Willis, or The Rock or any of the others, they all have the same general outlines and tend to blend together. There’s not a single sequence or image or performance that stands out from the pack. The whole thing is competent but nothing special. The use of the Irish as the villains (The Irish troubles were still ongoing at the time of its release) now makes it seem like a quaint period piece. Some of the technology such as clunky early 90s computer systems and cell phones also seem risible to modern eyes.

Ford is fine in the lead role. His Ryan is his standard action hero – similar to his characters in Air Force One and The Fugitive. Stalwart, laconic, likeable but formal. He has none of the insouciance he brought to Han Solo and Indiana Jones which make those films still such fun to watch. Sometimes while watching it I wondered if he had been replaced by a Disney animatronic. Sean Bean, on the other hand, brings a bit of a reptilian grace to his part and is so much more animated, at times you’re somewhat rooting for him even though you know he can’t win given the rules of the genre. Most of the supporting cast are pretty expendable although there are some good moments of gravitas from James Earl Jones as one of Ryan’s bosses and some moments of stiff upper lip from James Fox as the royal cousin who is the target of the kidnapping attempt. (In the book, it’s Princess Diana which would have made a bit more sense and raised the stakes enough to keep us more interested.)

I neither recommend nor not recommend Patriot Games. It’s inoffensive (unless you’re Irish and trying to move past the troubles), passes the time pleasantly enough, and gives you plenty of mid period Harrison Ford to look at. It doesn’t have the taught levels of suspense that The Hunt for Red October provided but it’s also not the snooze fest of Clear and Present Danger.

Busby hats. Red headed female terrorists. Libyan training camp. Gratuitous royal medal. Freeway shoot out. Shoulder flesh wound. Comatose child. Power loss. Exploding small craft. Undisclosed baby gender.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at

image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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