A very fine thriller from director Phillip Noyce, "Clear and Present Danger" isn't flawless, but it does provide some tension, strong plot, snappy dialogue and a few good action scenes. The film is the second Jack Ryan film directed by Noyce (who was also going to direct "The Sum of All Fears", but dropped out) and the second starring Ford as Ryan (who was also going to star in "Sum of All Fears", but dropped out and was replaced by Ben Affleck). The picture opens with the coast guard investigating a massacre onboard a boat in the South Caribbean. One of the passengers on-board is a friend of the President, but also has connections to a South American drug cartel.
In the meantime, CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) becomes the replacement for his terminally ill boss (James Earl Jones). While Ryan investigates what appears to be a cover-up in Washington, an elite team of soldiers lead (via radio) by Clark (Willem Dafoe) has been sent to eliminate the drug lords responsible for the incident on the boat. When the operation causes too much trouble, the soldiers are cut off from communication and left vulnerable to attack; those who want to see the whole thing go away attempt to drop the blame in Ryan's corner.
The film does present its multiple plot threads in a clear and organized fashion, which certainly is a positive. Even though tension is nicely maintained throughout much of the movie, I suppose that some cutting could have taken place - at 141 minutes, 15-20 minutes of deletions could have further tightened the pace of the picture. Character development, in some cases, could have also been improved - the picture is largely more concerned with its plot and, in most cases, the twists and turns satisfactorily hold interest. Technically, it's a fine film, as well. Good production design and cinematography keep the dialogue-driven scenes in halls of Washington, D.C. from being cold or static. Action scenes are very well-handled, and the occasional visual effect looks good for the time.
The performances are a bit mixed, but generally very good. I haven't cared for Harrison Ford's recent performances, but he's more involved and involving here as Ryan. Dafoe, James Earl Jones, Joaquim de Almeida and Miguel Sandoval offer fine support. Special notice must go to Henry Czerny, who plays a terrific villian (as he did in Cruise's "Mission Impossible") - he should be in more movies. A young Thora Birch also appears as Ryan's daughter.
Concerns about pacing aside, I still find that "Clear and Present Danger" stands up well; it offers fine performances, some thrills and a compelling plot with a fair amount of twists and turns.
VIDEO: Paramount presents "Clear and Present Danger" with a new 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The previous release was a non-anamorphic effort, and one of the studio's early releases. I do not have the original release for comparison, but find this release to present very pleasing image quality that's a step above my recollection of the prior DVD. The presentation shows off Donald McAlpine ("Moulin Rouge", "Patriot Games")'s glossy widescreen cinematography quite beautifully; the image remains well-definied, smooth and "film-like" throughout.
Flaws remained few-and-far-between. Traces of edge enhancement were present on a few occasions, but weren't terribly distracting. Compression artifacts were not spotted, and the print looked to be in superb condition. A very light layer of grain is apparent at times throughout, but it only added to the "film-like" appearance.
The film's sleek, often somewhat subdued color palette looked stellar on this release, with no smearing or other concerns. Overall, not quite flawless, but still a very good presentation that I found quite enjoyable.
SOUND: This release (along with "Patriot Games" and "Red October") has generated a lot of buzz due to the fact that these are the first titles from Paramount that offer DTS audio. "Clear and Present Danger" offers both a DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 (if I remember correctly, the film's laserdisc edition was the first - or one of the first - to offer 5.1 digital sound) presentation of the film. Although the film is from 1994, it's still highly regarded for its sound design. Although the film does fold-up into a largely dialogue-driven effort for many of its interior scenes (aside from some ambience in a busier room or two), the action scenes offer very active surround use.
The film's score by James Horner sounds rich and dynamic throughout, coming across more than fiercely enough to convey its mood. Sound effects - especially explosions - sound loud and bassy, never thin or flawed. Dialogue also remained crisp and clear, aside from a few minor instances where it seemed slightly sharp. Solid bass is also present during the intense moments, as well. It's a compliment to supervising sound editors Bruce Stambler ("XXX"), John Leveque ("The Core") and the rest of the film's sound team that, nearly ten years later, the film's audio still compares favorably to many action films released today.
And, of course, there's the comparisons between Dolby Digital and DTS. After listening to the DTS presentation and then comparing it during some of the action and dialogue scenes to the Dolby Digital, the DTS track came out ahead, with tighter bass and somewhat improved clarity and warmth to Horner's score.
Behind The Danger: This 26-minute documentary mixes in EPK (Electronic Press Kit) footage with newly recorded interviews. Although I've not always been fond of his work, it's nice to hear from director Phillip Noyce again - his comments, even when simply about the story we've just seen, are intelligent and insightful. I suppose that his comments about some reservations regarding working in the Hollywood system within the opening moments of his commentary for the "Rabbit-Proof Fence" DVD (really one of the finest commentary tracks I've heard in a while, not to mention a great movie) may be some explanation as to why he didn't participate in more features for this title. Or, maybe he was just busy with both of his recent films ("Proof" and "Quiet American").
Other interviews are included, from Ford, James Earl Jones and other actors. The opening ten minutes of the documentary are a little too much of how great everyone was and what the story of the film is, but after that, things do get started and there are some fairly interesting comments about casting and production. Late in the documentary, an animated storyboard for the "attack on the vans" sequence is shown.
Although rather nice, one still sees potential for more supplements on this DVD. I would have liked to hear commentary from maybe some of the supporting actors and crew (production designer, cinematographer, etc.) Aside from the documentary, a trailer for the film is the only other supplement.
Final Thoughts: I still find "Clear and Present Danger" to be an enjoyable thriller, offering fine performances and a good deal of suspense. Paramount's new "Special Edition" certainly offers a fine presentation of the film at a good price (most stores should have it for around $15), but the supplemental section is somewhat lackluster. Still, recommended.
Note: This DVD is also available in a 4-DVD set that contains the Special Editions of "Clear and Present Danger", "Hunt For Red October" and "Patriot Games". The previously released edition of "Sum of All Fears" is also included in the set.
The Film ***