Tom Clancy's CIA analyst character Jack Ryan not only made an impact on the page, he also made an impact on the big screen as well. In the 1990 smash THE HUTN FOR RED October, as played by Alec Baldwin, he was in a race against time to find out whether a renegade Soviet submarine captain was out to defect to America, or out to launch. Then in 1992's PATRIOT GAMES, Ryan, then portrayed by Harrison Ford, went into action to protect his own family against the machinations of vengeful ultra-violent Irish Republican Army terrorists. And then in 1994, again with Ford more than capably assuming the role, Ryan found himself in a pickle much closer to his job: covert military action related to the ongoing Latin American drug war in CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER.
Ford's Jack Ryan is put into action into finding the root causes of why one of the closest friends of the President (Donald Moffatt) was killed on his boat in the Caribbean Sea. As it turns out, the president's dead friend had stolen money from a Colombian drug kingpin (Miguel Sandoval), like six hundred forty million dollars
and change. For Ford, this may seem like a fairly routine matter, as is him having to go to Congress to get authorization to fund the Colombian government's war against drug cartels like Sandoval's. But unbeknownst to him, Moffatt, along with his national security adviser (Harris Yulin) and deputy CIA director (Henry Czerny) have hatched a covert operation called Operation Reciprocity to finish off the drug war on American terms, sending a paramilitary unit commanded by a man named Clark (Willem Dafoe) into the hot zone. More importantly, when his mentor Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) falls victim to inoperable pancreatic cancer that ultimately kills him, the weight of the world falls on his shoulders. Dafoe's team does score hits against Sandoval's operation; but the end result is a series of horrific acts of retribution, including the killing of an FBI team sent to assist Ford, followed by the capture of Dafoe's men by an associate of Sandoval's (Joaquin De Almeida) out to take over Sandoval's operation.
Once Ford makes himself aware of the kind of paramilitary finagling that had been going on behind his back, he becomes a fighter once more—not for just his family, but the truth. This means having not only to go back down to the Colombian war zone to rescue Dafoe and his men, but also having to confront a president who has bent, and maybe even broken the law, for political points, and made decisions that resulted in massive losses of lives.
Philip Noyce, who had also directed PATRIOT GAMES, returns to the director's chair for this well made and, at close to two and a half hours, epic action/suspense thriller. Not surprisingly, Ford delivers the kind of performance that could easily be classified as a "thinking man's action hero" as Ryan, acting not on impulse or an urge for explosions of violence, but a vigilant search for the truth. Ultimately, he wonders, exactly what does constitute a "clear and present danger" in the real world? Is it what the president says it is, when it is in the form of drug cartels (who, by the early 2000s, proliferated far closer to the U.S., in rural sections of Mexico)? Or is the real clear and present danger found in a host of decisions merely meant to gain political points? Ford's performance remains the centerpiece of this film, but Sandoval and De Almeida make for a pair of crafty (but non-stereotypical) South American heavies (much of the film was shot in Mexico), and there are also underhanded performances by Yulin and, most especially Czerny, the latter of whom is absolutely oily and corrupt (he would play a similar role only two years later in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE). And when he is not recycling his scores for ALIENS and PATRIOT GAMES, James Horner's score is extremely effective too, veering from typically stirring patriotic Americana to ethnic South American motifs (with pan flutes).
Far too many action films from the 1980s onward are all about spectacle, and almost no suspense or substance. But CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER has a lot of those two important things in spades, and still ranks as one of the best films of the action genre during the 1990s.