That Moment In Patriot Games (1992): Ambush at the Bridge
REVIEW: The first sequel in the Jack Ryan series, following The Hunt For Red October, stars different actors in the leads, most notably Harrison Ford as the titular hero, replacing a reluctant Alec Baldwin¹. Ryan is a CIA analyst delivering a speech at the Royal Naval Academy in London, with his wife (Anne Archer) and daughter (Thora Birch) along for some tourism. Meeting afterward, they witness a terrorist attack on Lord William Holmes (James Fox), British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Ryan leaps into the fray and saves the Secretary’s life but is shot in the shoulder as he kills one of the masked assailants while Sean Miller (Sean Bean), another terrorist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army looks on, taken down by police but eyeing Ryan very carefully, remembering the face of the man who just killed his brother. Thus sets up the revenge story of Sean’s dogged, unwavering commitment to see Ryan and his family killed, which becomes all the more plausible after his fellow soldiers break him out of the prisoner transport carrying him to jail.
Directed by Phillip Noyce, the second in the series makes a radical shift from the original by stripping much of the tactical and political intrigue and making Ryan more of an action hero. This works well at the start where Ryan is thrust into momentum as it seems like a decision he would make. And there is no denying the impressive and tension-filled moment involving a strike on a terrorist camp seen only through satellite images that is very well made and decidedly non-action. This is pure Tom Clancy, the writer of the book series the films are adapted from, even if a revelation during the attack is highly coincidental. That’s the real trouble with this very slickly made yet often exciting movie. It’s just not smart, instead chugging along on silly decisions intelligent people shouldn’t be making in order to keep the plot on target. We aren’t meant to question why Ryan, a man of great intellect would keep his family in their isolated home, surrounded by forests on three sides and ocean on the other instead of in CIA protection when it is revealed that terrorists have made him a target. This is after they are released from the hospital from multiple injures sustained in an armed attack against them on a highway. But we should. This is a problem that undermines much of the character we are meant to trust.
Still, Ford is commanding in the role and as he has shown so often, is a powerfully effective leading man. So too is the limited presence of James Earl Jones as his immediate superior, Admiral Greer. Both are fun to watch and give the film some much needed weight. While Bean and his compatriots, led by Kevin O’Donnell (Patrick Bergin) are suitable villains, they are painfully thin archetypes that serve only a single purpose, save for a brief cameo by Richard Harris who really shines. Entertaining but predictable, this thriller can’t live up to its origins.
That Moment In: Patriot Games
Scene Set-Up: When the attack on the Secretary is disrupted by Ryan, Sean Miller is the only terrorist captured alive after the others abandon him. During the interrogation, as he sits stone-faced and silent while police try to learn where the others are hiding. Led by Inspector Highland (David Threlfall), who is a bit arrogant, the police are unable to get Miller to say a single word. The only time he ever does speak is during his trial where he abruptly stands and chastises Ryan for killing his baby brother. Weeks later, he is to be transferred to his new home, the infamous Albany Prison. His colleagues are waiting in ambush.
The Scene (Timestamp 00:30:05): Using two vans as decoys, Miller is placed in the back of a third van with two guards and Inspector Highland, who will be handing him over to new authorities. As they stop at the draw bridge leading to the prisoner island, from inside the van, there is heard and felt the impact of an explosion that destroys the police car escorts, signaling an escape attempt in progress. They are quickly subdued and Highland has no choice but to open the back doors. The two guards and he are tossed to the ground, shot and Miller is is free, leaving the scene with the others as the vehicles burn.
It might seem strange to choose a moment that doesn’t include Ryan in a film where he is the main character, but without this escape there is no story. Miller has been sitting mute for weeks, biding his time, never giving up hope that a plan was in action to set him free. When it comes, we aren’t surprised of course. We’ve already seen steps taken to procure the necessary information concerning which van Miller will be in. What is surprising is the way it comes and how well it’s filmed. We sit with Sean, locked behind a cage door inside the van as Highland tries one last time to get the prisoner to talk with him. We learn Highland is Irish too, and confesses he understands the anger Miller feels. But times have changed, and his is running out. When the the blast rocks the van and an orange hue fills the bulletproof glass as the escort cars are engulfed in flames, there is a knowing look between Miller and Highland that is devastating for it is exactly at this moment when the Inspector knows his he is finished and Miller will be free.
Once out of the van, Highland and the uniformed guards are laid face down on the street in front of the gutted police car, still crackling with fire. They are doomed, and know it. O’Donnell leans close and puts his pistol against Highland’s cheek and mocks him for betraying his country. Highland, not willing to show fear, and holding his dignity to the very end, simply tells him, “Get on with it, and be on your way.”
There’s always been something very affecting about a singular death in films. Grand epic battles can say much about a period, a cause and the people in conflict, but the one death always has more impact. Think of Private Meelish’s (Adam Goldberg) death in Saving Private Ryan or even Sean Bean as Borimor in The Lord of the Rings. These are moments that we can connect with because they are personal, and feel more tragic. We can put ourselves in these people’s positions and ask ourselves, what would I do? The scene goes on with O’Donnell handing the pistol to Miller and giving him the power to execute the men. What’s very interesting about this is the slight hesitation he reveals before pulling the trigger. Is this the first time he will kill? It is the death of his brother, and the need to seek out Ryan that is his blinding motivation. That begins right here, on a bridge in London with the murder of a countryman in service to the other side.