Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Bean, Anne Archer
Director: Phillip Noyce
Running Time: 117 mins
Patriot Games is an American film about CIA analyst Jack Ryan, and his fight for safety as a rogue faction of the IRA terrorist group seeks revenge on him and his family after a botched assassination.
Capturing a darker intensity of the action genre that often makes for riveting storytelling, Patriot Games finds itself stuck in an awkward middle ground between a dramatically-focused story and a relative lack of genuinely gripping dramatic depth.
Despite featuring a few solid action scenes, an as-ever excellent lead performance from Harrison Ford, and a commitment to character-driven drama, there’s something about Patriot Games that makes its darker and more intense tone really fall flat.
A big part of the film’s issue lies in the fact that, despite paying good attention to characters and effective screenwriting, there’s little in the way of gripping emotional depth here. Following the story of Jack Ryan as he and his family are hounded by vengeful terrorists, this should be a film where I really fear for the protagonists’ lives and safety.
However, the reality of the matter is that Patriot Games lends surprisingly little dramatic focus to its protagonists, and instead spends a lot of time with the villains of the story, in some cases developing them far more than the good guys you should be supporting.
Harrison Ford is still the main man of the film, but for the most part, he feels like Harrison Ford, not Jack Ryan. I wouldn’t put that down to Ford’s performance, but rather a screenplay that seems to lean too heavily on the actor’s own charisma, rather than crafting an engrossing on-screen persona for him.
Meanwhile, we get a lot of in-depth and intimate moments focusing on the antagonists, mostly Sean Bean. On the one hand, that approach does lend a little more intrigue to the story than a mere ‘good vs. bad’ plot line, but on the other, it takes away from your connection to Ryan and his family, which in turn lessens the fear and thrill factor of the story at hand.
It’s an admittedly difficult balance for all action movies to strike, and unfortunately Patriot Games really comes up short on the narrative front.
However, on the plus side, the film counts on a range of excellent performances from Ford, Bean and more, all of whom bring an energy and appeal to their characters that the screenplay never seems to muster.
Meanwhile, when the film breaks into more fast-paced, intense action, it’s a whole lot more entertaining. Action blockbusters don’t have to be non-stop thrill rides, but the weakness of this film’s dramatic side means that the action is where you’ll find most of its entertainment value.
As a result, I found Patriot Games to be a bit of a mixed bag. Far from the most exhilarating action movie of the ’90s, it doesn’t manage to make the best of a screenplay that’s admittedly trying something different, but lacks the dramatic depth to prove fully riveting. The film does have good action and performances throughout, but it’s just lacking that emotional spark to make its darker tone fully effective. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 6.8 overall.