Greatest Movie Series
Jack Ryan Films
The Hunt for Red October (1990) | Patriot Games (1992) | Clear and Present Danger (1994)
The Sum of All Fears (2002)
|The Sum of All Fears (2002)
d. Phil Alden Robinson, 124 minutes
Film Plot Summary
Under the credits, a nuclear weapon was loaded into a sole, Israeli A-4 jet-fighter, as captioned history was presented about the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East: "In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel. By Day Two, Israeli ground forces appeared on the verge of defeat. In the event that their ground forces were overrun, an Israeli A-4 jet took off on patrol with one nuclear bomb." When the Israeli pilot was momentarily distracted, his jet was shot down over the Syrian desert, and the flaming wreckage (including the unexploded bomb) was eventually hidden by blowing sand.
29 Years Later (in 2002) - in a top-secret government underground bunker in Mt. Weather, Virginia, the President Robert Fowler (James Cromwell) was conducting a test war-game (not revealed immediately) with his top advisors from the NSA and CIA, including CIA Director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman), Secretary of State Sidney Owens (Ron Rifkin), and National Security Advisor Gene Revell (Bruce McGill). The oft-repeated simulation was about how to react to a Russian missile attack upon the US from multiple sites, with first impact within 25 minutes. They discussed speaking to the Russian Federation leader - but President Zorkin was reported missing and there was a coup in Moscow, and General Bulgakov was in charge ("the asshole who wanted to use nukes in Chechnya"). [The entire sequence was a foreshadowing of the exciting conclusion of the film when the President was also confronted with a real global crisis of nuclear war.] Cabot offhandedly mentioned his worry not about the Russians, but of "the guy with one" nuke.
At CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, well-informed, young and brash researcher/historian Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck) watched videotape of the current Russian Federation President Zorkin (Richard Marner), who was facing crime, economic troubles, Chechnya, and his own health issues, including alcoholism. In Vienna, Austria, Richard Dressler (Alan Bates), an Austrian Neo-Nazi (the back of his wristwatch was inscribed with a swastika symbol), complained in a lecture about how the US (West) and Russia (East) were imposing their paternalistic will on the European community and its smaller countries, where they were "treated like children" and not allowed their own sovereign ability to govern themselves.
In the Syrian desert, the hidden, unexploded nuclear bomb was uncovered by an Arab digger, and hauled away in a truck. Shortly later, in Damascus, Syria, South African arms dealer Olson (Colm Feore) purchased the scrap metal for $400, and turned around and sold it (communicated in an encrypted e-mail to Dressler) for $50 million, identifying it inaccurately as an Israeli-made (rather than US-made), vintage 1973, mark 12-type fission bomb.
Russian President Zorkin fell over dead in his home, and was succeeded by Alexander Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds). In his bedroom, Jack Ryan vowed to his new doctor girlfriend Dr. Catherine "Cathy" Muller (Bridget Moynahan), a second year surgical resident at Baltimore Memorial Hospital, that he wasn't scared of falling in love with her. Ryan was called to work, because of the change of power in Russia, and because of his background knowledge of Nemerov's life and career. He attended a top-secret Intelligence briefing with CIA Director Cabot and various Congressmen, who feared that Nemerov was a "hard-liner," tied to the military and wanted to rebuild the Russian Empire.
The President sent a team (including Cabot and Ryan) for a routine inspection of Russia's nuclear decommissioning facility named Arzamas. First however, they were invited to the Kremlin to personally meet the new Russian Federation President (accompanied by his aide Anatoli Grushkov (Michael Byrne), a long-time figure in Soviet politics who "plays all sides"), who was impressed by Ryan's ability to speak Russian. Nemerov told Cabot that he wished to deliver a message to the US President about Russian-Chechnyan affairs: "Chechnya is an internal affair. What we do there should be none of your concern." Nemerov attested that Chechnya was a nation of criminals that had made numerous attacks on innocent Russian civilians. He tensely warned Cabot: "For you to get involved here, it's like sleeping with another man's wife, and what you are suggesting is that afterward, they can all live together under the same roof. But what really happens is the betrayed husband buys a gun."
Afterwards, during the Arzamas nuclear plant facility inspection in the birthplace of the first Russian atomic bomb, Ryan asked why 3 of the 17 senior Russian nuclear scientists were not present. Grushkov quickly answered that the three, Milinov, Orlov, and Spassky, were respectively sick, on vacation, and Spassky was killed in a recent car accident. In Haifa, Israel, Olson observed as a large wooden crate carrying the nuclear bomb was loaded onto a Russian freighter (bound for the Ukraine). On their way home, Ryan and Cabot received more information about the three scientists -- each one was a specialist in fission bomb detonators, the nuclear core itself, and the explosive itself - "Exact three men you would need if you wanted to build a bomb." Cabot called Grushkov's excuses for their absence lies - he believed that the Russians had no idea of their whereabouts. Cabot divulged that he had a "secure source inside the Kremlin. Code name: Spinnaker...We keep the back channels open in hopes of staving off disaster." [Cabot's covert informant was Grushkov.] When they arrived in Washington, Cabot spoke briefly to one of his CIA operatives, John Clark (Liev Schreiber), instructing him to find the location of the three missing Russian nuclear scientists.
Jack Ryan took his girlfriend to the fancy White House Correspondents' Dinner at the Hilton Hotel (using John Clark's ticket), where the formal proceedings were interrupted by the news of a massive Russian artillery strike against Grozny, the capital city of Chechnya. In the shells was an experimental chemical weapon, a binary nerve agent causing symptoms of late-stage cerebral palsy - "the most massive attack in the history of chemical warfare." To defuse the troubling situation, President Fowler's first response was to send NATO peacekeeping troops into Chechnya and to provide humanitarian relief. Speaking to the President and his advisors, Ryan was the sole voice believing that Nemerov wasn't a hard-liner, and rhetorically asked: "What if Nemerov didn't order the attack?" He speculated (correctly, in fact) that a rogue general or splinter military group may have been responsible rather than Nemerov. Ryan backed up his beliefs with only his personal feelings: "I don't think he did it, sir." Although Nemerov publically claimed responsibility on television for the nerve gas attack, privately, he knew that "unhappy old Communists," two Generals, were actually responsible, and he ordered Grushkov to have them "disappear."
In Austria at Dressler's home, he plotted with the other conspirators regarding the shipment and detonation of the bomb. One of the less militaristic, doubting members of the group, Frenchman Mr. Monceau (Marcel Sabourin), who called their plan "not perfectly conceived" and expressed his discomfort, was strangled to death. In Baltimore, Maryland at the dock, Dressler's American contact Jared Mason (Joel Bissonnette) received an email message from a European email address: "The day has arrived" - the bomb was soon to arrive in the US. CIA spy plane photographs confirmed that Nemerov did not respond to US-NATO actions by mobilizing his military, and Ryan again speculated that Nemerov was sending a message: "He didn't bomb Grozny."
CIA operative John Clark traveled to Russia, near Arzamas, to learn more about the disappearance of the missing Russian atomic scientists. Posing as the former teaching assistant of Mr. Spassky, one of the three scientists who had a "secret job," Clark learned that Spassky had telephoned his hospitalized mother - the call was traced to an abandoned Soviet army base outside Cherkassy, in the Ukraine, where the scientists (including Spassky) had presumably been activating Dressler's bomb. (In a photograph, Spassky was observed telling Olson that they were successful.) Ryan was told to join Clark in the Ukraine, on an unauthorized and secret mission to the location where the scientists were working, although spy photographs showed that they might be too late - the scientists might already have left after completing their job. Ryan and Clark found a few revealing clues: the murdered scientists, empty cans of spray paint, a heavy imprint, a piece of the damaged packing crate marked Haifa, and a badge with a nuclear radiation warning symbol and temperature indicator.
In a recording, Dressler described his evil motivations, as the crate was transported by Mason from the Baltimore docks to the city's sports stadium, where it was installed and disguised as a cigarette vending machine in the parking garage: "Most people believe the 20th century was defined by the death struggle of communism versus capitalism, and that fascism was but a hiccup. Today we know better. Communism was a fool's errand. The followers of Marx, gone from this Earth. But the followers of Hitler abound and thrive. Hitler, however, had one great disadvantage. He lived in a time when fascism, like a virus - like the AIDS virus - needed a strong host in order to spread. Germany was that host. But strong as it was, Germany could not prevail. The world was too big. Fortunately, the world has changed. Global communications, cable TV, the Internet. Today the world is smaller and a virus does not need a strong host in order to spread. The virus is airborne. One more thing. Let no man call us crazy. They called Hitler crazy, but Hitler wasn't crazy. He was stupid. You don't fight Russia and America. You get Russia and America to fight each other - and destroy each other."
Further CIA investigation of the shipment traced the crate from Kiev in the Ukraine, by air to the Canary Islands, where it was put on a cargo freighter bound for the East Coast of the US - to Baltimore. A major football sports competition (between Florida and Chicago) was being held in Baltimore, attended by both President Fowler and Cabot, as Ryan frantically rode in a helicopter to the Baltimore docks and attempted to warn them of the nuclear bomb's presence in the city. He was thwarted by crowd noise that drowned out the ringing of Cabot's cellphone. When Ryan eventually delivered his message, "The bomb is in play" somewhere in Baltimore, Cabot ordered the Secret Service agents to get the President out of the stadium. After he was safely evacuated, the bomb detonated and the shockwaves of the mushroom-shaped nuclear blast destroyed much of the city, and the President's motorcade of cars was toppled. The slightly-injured Fowler was rescued by US Marines arriving in Super Stallion helicopters, and taken to a Boeing E-4B NAOC (National Airborne Operations Center), an advanced airborne command post in flight (without Cabot). Ryan also survived the blast when his helicopter crashed, and phoned CIA headquarters, telling them the Russians were not responsible - he was worried that Fowler would blame the Russians and retaliate. Confusion reigned onboard as the President's plane took off - a DEFCON2 status was recommended.
The blast was reported to be from a low-yield device, smaller than the Hiroshima bomb, and it had left a crater a quarter of a square mile around the stadium (ground zero), and other heavily damaged buildings for another quarter mile. To make matters worse, Dressler (after learning of the detonation) telephoned corrupt Russian Air Force General Dubinin (Yevgeni Lazarev) at a Russian air base, and alerted him to the next step in their plan. The traitorous general falsely reported to his fighter-jet pilots that an American ICBM had hit Moscow, and that they were to retaliate by striking the USS John C. Stennis, an American aircraft carrier in the North Sea.
Ryan hurriedly tried to determine the bomb's origin, and decided to go to the Baltimore docks to find out who signed for the crate the bomb was shipped in. A communications uplink established a connection between Fowler and Nemerov, and Fowler wrote that the "major nuclear event" was non-accidental and that they still hadn't determined the source. Nemerov promptly replied with sympathy, calling it a "crime without precedent," and claiming that Russia "had nothing to do with this infamous act." The US responded by vowing to protect itself from further aggression. When the missile airstrike by Russian jets heavily damaged the Stennis, the carrier was unable to launch counter-offensive flights. Although Nemerov denied involvement again, Fowler escalated the conflict (into a "de facto state of war with Russia") with a conventional, measured, non-nuclear attack by ordering three Air Force F-16 fighter jets (with smart bombs) to attack the Russian air base where the carrier attack originated.
Meanwhile, Ryan learned from the Army's Radiation Assessment Team that the plutonium in the nuclear bomb was manufactured at the Savannah River (South Carolina, USA) DOE nuclear plant in February of 1968. He found Cabot being treated in a makeshift medical facility, and witnessed his death - Cabot's final word was: "Spinnaker." Ryan was told to proceed to the Baltimore docks, to the Trans-Con warehouse, where the name on the manifest was Mason. With Cabot's personal effects in his possession, he received an email message sent to Cabot from Spinnaker: "Nemerov furious. Coup possible. US must back down." He replied: "Cabot dead. This is Ryan. Our plutonium stolen 1968. Where did it go?" Spinnaker replied: "Israel." Ryan learned that the US stole the plutonium, and gave it to Israel for their nuclear weapons program. In the meantime, Fowler had also ordered nuclear submarines from the East coast to put to sea with first-strike Trident 3-B missiles.
Ryan finally reached Defense Secretary Becker by phone on the President's plane, vowing: "This bomb was not Nemerov...The plutonium came from...," but he was cut off. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, CIA operative Clark located the dying Syrian who had originally found the bomb, and was suffering from radiation poisoning. He identified Olson, living in Damascus, as the man who bought the bomb. Shortly after, the CIA downloaded Olson's computer files, showing a payment of $45 million dollars to Olson from someone named Dressler.
As counter-measures to escalate the tense conflict to a higher level were proposed by generals and other advisors for both the Russian and US heads of state, Nemerov was advised to strike at NORAD near Colorado Springs, while Fowler was advised to initiate SNAPCOUNT - a maximum readiness order to take out Russian land-based missiles with a massive nuclear strike. It would also destroy Russian submarines and any planes on the ground, and mobilize US fighters to destroy the remaining airborne jets. President Fowler launched three Stealth bombers from Italy - a serious sign to the Russians that caused Nemerov to prepare to counter-attack the bombers and activate the missile regiments.
At the Baltimore docks, Ryan was viciously attacked by a South African assassin named Bock, who had already murdered Mason. As Ryan tightened a chain around Bock's neck, he asked: "Where is Dressler?" but was interrupted by the arrival of Maryland State police - they facilitated his travel to the Pentagon via helicopter. Nearing the Pentagon, Ryan's contacts at the CIA identified Dressler as a billionaire Austrian manufacturer and a Neo-Nazi sympathizer. Using Cabot's security badge as entry into the Pentagon, Ryan urged one of the generals to listen to him before millions of people would die: "My orders are to get the right information to the people who make the decisions."
As the SNAPCOUNT order to strike was readied by Fowler, Ryan began communications with President Nemerov, relaying the truth about the events: that the nuclear bombing was a terrorist attack, that the weapon was not Russian but American, that a neo-fascist named Dressler two months earlier had bought an A-bomb on the black market, that Dressler paid three disaffected Russian scientists to make the bomb active, and that the bomb was shipped to the US where a man named Mason was hired to deliver the bomb to the target and set the two countries on a collision course. Ryan urged Nemerov: "Back down." He also was able to write about fear: "This no longer has anything to do with Baltimore. Now it's about fear. Our fear of your missiles, your fear of our subs. Fear of being weak or making a mistake." Although Nemerov was unsure what Fowler would do, he ordered Russian strategic forces to stand down, although they would maintain defensive alert. Fowler had only 30 seconds to reverse his launch sequence to avert all-out nuclear war, and to begin a phased, mutual stand-down over five hours time.
As the two presidents later met to sign a non-proliferation treaty in Moscow, the conspirators were dealt with: Olson's throat was slit by John Clark, traitorous General Dubinin was shot by Russian agents in a snowy forest as he fled, and Dressler was killed by a car bomb outside his home, triggered by his cigarette lighter (as Grushkov looked on). In a second ceremony in Washington, DC on the White House lawn, President Fowler announced "a multi-national campaign to root out and eliminate weapons of mass destruction. We have embarked on this course, because we have finally learned, at far too great a cost, that if the most powerful weapons ever created are unleashed, they will be fired not in anger... but fear."
Across the street in a park, Dr. Ryan and girlfriend Cathy were enjoying a picnic, when approached by Grushkov. He knew Cathy's name, and revealed that he was Cabot's covert Russian source ("to keep the back channels open in hopes of staving off disaster"), code-named Spinnaker. He presented them with a "modest gift" for their engagement, before smiling, shrugging and walking off. They were perplexed that he would know ("How could you possibly know?"), since Ryan had only proposed that morning. Nemerov was heard in the background repeating President Kennedy's words: "Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."
Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)
With no Academy Award nominations.
With a production budget of $68 million, and box-office gross receipts of $119 million (domestic) and $194 million (worldwide).
President Robert Fowler
CIA Director William Cabot
Sec. of State Sidney Owens
NSA Gene Revell
(Philip Baker Hall)
Russian Federation President Alexander Nemerov
CIA operative John Clark
Dr. Catherine "Cathy" Muller
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