"Patriot Games" is the second of four movie adaptations of novels by the late Tom Clancy. Ostensibly a sequel to 1990’s "The Hunt for Red October" and featuring its main character, Jack Ryan, "Patriot Games" is a “thinking man’s action movie” that can be viewed on its own.
Directed by Phillip Noyce ("Dead Calm"), Patriot Games stars Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer and retired CIA analyst who runs afoul of Irish terrorists when he foils their plot to kidnap a member of the Royal Family in London.
As in the novel, Jack Ryan is in England on a working vacation with his wife Cathy (Ann Archer) and daughter Sally (Thora Birch). While on his way to join his family on a sightseeing walk, Ryan literally runs into the terrorists’ ambush on Lord Howe (James Fox) and his wife as they are driving on a London street.
Without hesitating, Ryan falls back on to his Marine Corps training and foils the attack, killing two of the attackers, one of whom is terrorist Sean Miller's (Sean Bean) younger brother. Although Ryan is wounded during the gunfight, he later testifies in court against Miller.
This sets off a chain of vendetta-upon-vendetta that will lead to Ryan's return to the CIA and an Ahab-vs.-Moby Dick-like obsessive quest for revenge on Miller's part.
As in the other Clancy-based movies, "Patriot Games" takes the audience on a global whirlwind tour as the action moves from the U.K. to Libya (where the terrorists have training camps), CIA headquarters in Langley, VA, and the Baltimore, MD area, where the paths of the terrorists and their hunter/prey must eventually converge.
Viewed purely on its merits outside Clancy’s “Ryan-verse,” "Patriot Games" works well. Ford steps into the Ryan role effortlessly. Ford, who had turned down the part when "The Hunt for Red October" was cast, plays Ryan as a man who resorts to violent action as a last resort. His scenes with the lovely Ann Archer are totally believable, and his character's motivations ("Not for honor. Not for country. For his wife and child.") gives the audience a more human and vulnerable hero to root for than Ryan's antithesis, James Bond.
Samuel L. Jackson appears here early in his career as Ryan's best friend, Navy pilot Robby Jackson. Patrick Bergin oozes menace as Miller's extremist superior, and Thora Birch is charming as Sally Ryan, Jack's daughter.
The screenplay by W. Peter Iliff and Donald Stewart is crisp and taut, and director Philip Noyce keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. And, to give Mace Neufeld credit, the casting of James Earl Jones as Admiral James Greer (a role he played in "The Hunt for Red October") did give this film some sense of continuity.
Though "Patriot Games" works well as an action-thriller independent from "The Hunt for Red October," it was famously disowned by Tom Clancy even before its theatrical release in June of 1992.
In a December 1991 article published in the Orlando Sentinel, the author expressed his unhappiness with the screenplay by Iliff and Stewart.
The Sentinel’s Daniel Webster, citing a Baltimore Sun interview with the best-selling writer, reported that Clancy had asked Paramount to remove his name from the movie’s credits.
''This request is not being done on the spur of the moment. I told them this was a possibility in late August - the product they are turning out is a disaster. . . . To the best of my knowledge, there's not a single scene in the movie that tracks with a scene in the book,'' Clancy said to the Sun.
Some of the changes from the original novel to the finished screenplay were forced upon the writers when Alec Baldwin, who played Jack Ryan in "The Hunt for Red October," accepted a role in a Broadway production of "A Midsummer’s Night Dream" and became unavailable. Neufeld offered the role to Ford, who at age 50 was 15 years older than the 35-year-old Ryan.
Ford accepted, but principal screenwriter Iliff had to do a major rewrite and turned Ryan from the up-and-coming CIA analyst to a professor of naval history at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Iliff and co-writer Stewart also deleted a platoon’s worth of supporting characters from Clancy's novel and gave the movie a radically different ending.
Paramount Pictures and producer Neufeld kept Clancy’s name on the credits, and the author reneged on his threat to sell the rights to more Jack Ryan novels to another studio.
Paramount Home Entertainment has released "Patriot Games" on DVD and Blu-ray several times since 1998.
The 1998 DVD is a “barebones” edition that only offers the theatrical trailer as an extra feature. This was followed by the 2003 Special Collector’s Edition, a one-disc re-release which includes "Patriot Games Close Up," a behind-the-scenes featurette with interviews with Harrison Ford, Mace Neufeld, Phillip Noyce, Ann Archer, James Earl Jones, W. Peter Iliff, and Anne Archer.
The 2008 Blu-ray is essentially the same as the 2003 Collector’s Edition DVD, albeit with 1080p high definition video and digital Dolby sound in English, French and Spanish.