Patriot Games

Patriot Games (1992) Director: Phillip Noyce



Following the huge success of 1990’s The Hunt For Red October, Paramount was keen to produce a sequel. Supposedly they wanted to shoot a quick film and owed Harrison Ford a favor, so unlike in The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games did not feature Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan (the only holdover was James Earl Jones as Jim Greer), though the film does feature some other notable performances from actors including Samuel L. Jackson as Lt. Commander Robbie Jackson, and Richard Harris as Paddy O’Neil, a spokesman for the IRA whose support of more radical groups is questionable. Patriot Games was the second novel in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, both chronologically as well as by publication date.

Patriot Games is a slow-burn tale of revenge and heroism. In the film, Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is a former CIA analyst turned history teacher at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He is on vacation in London with his physician wife Cathy (who is newly pregnant) and their daughter Sally, when Jack suddenly witnesses an attempted kidnapping royal family members by a radical group of IRA members. A car bomb goes off. Men in masks emerge from a vehicle, guns ablaze. Jack intervenes and prevents the crime, but he kills one of the terrorists, a young boy who is revealed to be the little brother of the gang’s leader, Sean Miller (Sean Bean). Miller is tried and found guilty (he threatens Jack in open court) but just as he is being delivered to prison Miller is rescued by his fellow militants.

The British police believe there is an IRA informant in their midst, meanwhile Miller makes plans to exact vengeance on Jack for killing his brother. He leads a group of terrorists on a mission to attack Jack at his Maryland home during a night rainstorm that eventually leads to an intense boat chase where Jack finally kills Miller and all is returned to normal.

I thought Patriot Games was a terrific albeit simple and predictable thriller. The chief theme in the film questions the distinctions between public and private goods, or civil obligations and familial responsibilities. Is it ever worthwhile to sacrifice your family’s security in order to serve your country? To what extent is Sean Bean’s villainous character, Sean Miller, merely trying to do the same thing as Jack Ryan –to serve his country and protect or avenge his family? Patriotism comes to light as a troubling idea in Patriot Games.

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