Popcorn and Inspiration: ‘Clear and Present Danger’: Bucking White House Corruption

June 27, 2020 Updated: May 31, 2021

PG-13 | | Action, Crime, Drama | 3 August 1994 (USA)

“Clear and Present Danger” (1994) starring Harrison Ford would be an appropriate title for just about everything in 2020. This year is turning out to be quite a dangerous year, what with COVID-19, the excruciating dearth of toilet paper, Marxist-instigated riots, and murder hornets.

This film, which is Ford’s last appearance as Jack Ryan in the Tom Clancy-penned series, has a strong whiff of danger; it’s almost 2.5 hours long but the action is so compelling, you don’t notice the time. The only slow thing is the early-1990s computer technology.

Its immediate predecessor was “Patriot Games,” and “Clear and Present Danger” is about the games played in Washington D.C.’s corridors of power, by so-called patriots.

This is a guy movie, jam-packed with politics, CIA scheming, special forces combat sniping, and a sneaky, laser-guided smart bomb dropped by a McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet on a Colombian drug lord’s daughter’s quinceañera. That’s what you’d call a real murder Hornet.

Jack Steps Up

When Jack’s mentor, Deputy Director of Intelligence Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones), is stricken with terminal cancer, Ryan is promoted to take his place.

Man in brown suit jacket and tie in "Clear and Present Danger"
Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) in “Clear and Present Danger.” (Paramount Pictures)

Jack’s a rookie, very green; the CIA and White House power-play piranhas size him up, seeking to outmaneuver him immediately.

Jack’s first item of business is to handle the drug cartel execution of an American family aboard their yacht. Turns out this family were also close personal friends of the U.S. president (Donald Moffat). Further complicating matters is the fact that the family appear to have been in cahoots with the cartel that killed them.

POTUS and funeral flag ceremony in "Clear and Present Danger"
David Moffat (C) as President Bennett in “Clear and Present Danger.” (Paramount Pictures)

Jack, at first wide-eyed and flattered when the president speaks words he suggested on national TV, soon begins to get the hang of the White House mental chess game (with coaching from Greer’s hospital bed).

Meanwhile, the POTUS, National Security Adviser James Cutter (Harris Yulin), and Deputy Director of Operations Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny) have green-lighted former Navy SEAL-CIA operative John Clark (Willem Dafoe) to audition and select a small, impromptu black ops unit of Spanish-speaking, U.S. Army Green Beret and Delta Force operators. And then quickly Black-Hawk-helicopter them into the Colombian jungle for search-and-destroy missions against the cartels.

man in green facepaint and man on satellite phone in "Clear and Present Danger"
Army special ops sniper (Raymond Cruz, L) and former CIA agent (Willem Dafoe) in “Clear and Present Danger.” (Paramount Pictures)

Once inserted, they immediately start blowing up subterranean cocaine labs, and calling in the above-mentioned murder Hornet bomb strike—which is supposed to look like a car bombing. Immediate retribution for the yacht murders.

Jack Takes Off the Gloves

Prior to the U.S. covert military team eventually getting pinned down by enemy fire in the jungle with no rescue forthcoming (because the POTUS would like the whole headache to just “go away”), Jack’s mostly involved in dealing with the extremely sneaky Robert Ritter.

Jack orders a kid from the White House equivalent of Best Buy’s Geek Squad to hack Ritter’s computer. Once Jack gets in, he ends up in a race to download Ritter’s files onto floppy disks and print them, while Ritter tries to delete them, all while small-talking about how they got off on the wrong foot and should have a tennis match. The technology is now laughable, but the scene remains surprisingly potent.

man physically threatens another man in "Clear and Present Danger"
Henry Czerny (L) and Harrison Ford in “Clear and Present Danger.” (Paramount Pictures)

Then, needing to monitor the situation in Colombia, Jack, along with CIA and Secret Service personnel, winds up in an electrifying motorcade ambush that was probably the forerunner of the powerful ambush of the CIA by the MS-13 gang scene, in 2015’s “Sicario.”

man runs from gunfire in "Clear and Present Danger"
Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) flees the ambush site in “Clear and Present Danger.” (Paramount Pictures)

All in All

This is good, solid, stolid, earnest Ford, who, since carpentry was his day job for years, knows how to assist all his directors in crafting scenes to be more dynamic.

Ford’s best moment arrives at the movie’s end, when his character faces down the president with threats to go to the press, and the president says that none of that will happen because he’ll wheel, deal, and dance what he calls “the Potomac two-step.” To which Jack Ryan replies, “Sorry, Mr. President. I don’t dance.”

Clearly, the fictitious Bennett administration was a swamp that needed draining. It’s inspiring that Jack Ryan had the courage to blow the whistle and pull the plug.

POTUS and Jack Ryan in "Clear and Present Danger"
President Bennett (Donald Moffat, L) and Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) in the Oval Office, in “Clear and Present Danger.” (Paramount Pictures)

‘A Clear and Present Danger’
Director: Phillip Noyce
Starring: Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, James Earl Jones, Joaquim de Almeida, Anne Archer, Henry Czerny, Harris Yulin, Donald Moffat, Benjamin Bratt
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 21 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 3, 1994
Rated: 4 stars out of 5

Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years experience as a professional New York actor, a classical theater training, a BA in philosophy, and recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook, “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World”: https://www.thespecterofcommunism.com/en/audiobook/
Rotten Tomatoes author page:
https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/mark-jackson/movies

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