Sunday, May 31, 2009

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER - Blu-Ray (Paramount 1994) Paramount Home Video

Based on Tom Clancy’s best selling novel, Philip Noyce’s Clear and Present Danger (1994) is a compelling action film brimming with genuine nail biting suspense. The film stars Harrison Ford as Clancy’s CIA analyst and unlikely ‘every man’ cum hero, Jack Ryan. Thrust into the fray of a Colombian drug cartel after a close personal acquaintance to President Bennett (Donald Moffat) is found by the coast guard with his family brutally murdered, Jack is assigned by Deputy Director of Intelligence, Adm. James Greer (James Earl Jones) to investigate the truth behind the slayings. What he discovers instead is a government conspiracy to cover up the truth.

It seems the President’s friend was actually working for the Cali Cartel while managing to skim $650 million of their blood money for his own personal use. To avenge the killing, the President gives National Security Advisor, James Cutter (Harris Yulin) unofficial permission to launch a private war under the disguise that the Colombian drug cartels represent ‘a clear and present danger’ to the U.S.

Meanwhile Greer is diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer forcing Jack to go it alone in his investigation. Ryan asks Congress for increased funding related to CIA intelligence operations in Colombia; a request granted, provided that no troops will be involved. Cutter, however, has other plans, turning to CIA Deputy Director of Operations Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny) who secures the assembly of a black-ops team with the help of John Clark(Willem Dafoe), a secret field operative. Clark and his team believe they are working in service of the government at large, a miscalculation that leads to an ambush in which almost all the men are slaughtered.

Drug kingpin Ernesto Escobedo (Miguel Sandovol) assigns his own assassin, Felix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida) to take care of his problems. Cortez romantic association with Moira Wolfson (Ann Magnuson), an unwitting contact inside the U.S. government affords Cortez a direct line of access into the Federal Bureau of Investigation ongoing Columbian stakeout. Having served her purpose, Cortez entices Moira to a remote cottage with the prospect of a romantic getaway. Once there, he murders her instead.

In Columbia, the leaders of the various cartels stake out the arrival of a diplomatic envoy carrying Jack Ryan. In the ensuing gun battle, everyone except Ryan is killed. In retaliation, Cutter orders the aerial bombing of a villa where all of the Cartel's leaders are set to meet for a summit. Unfortunately for Cutter, both Ryan and Cortez independently discover that the bombing were orchestrated by him.

Seizing upon his own opportunity for advancement, Cortez bribes Cutter into accepting a ploy to murder Escobedo and take over the Cartel or face being exposed for his illegal bombing raid that accidentally killed women and children. Cutter agrees, but Ryan has had enough. He hacks into Ritter's computer only to learn that Ritter and the President have been in contact all along on their ‘private war’.

In the film’s darkest hour, Ryan realizes he has been set up to be the government’s scapegoat. He also learns that his good friend, Adm.Greer has died. From here, the last act unravels like a Shakespearean tragedy. Faced with an uncertain future, Ryan goes to Columbia to rescue John Clark and the remaining soldiers. However, Ritter and Cutter get to Clark first, telling him that it was Ryan who double-crossed them and caused the ambush of Clark’s men. Clark vows to assassinate Ryan and almost does before Ryan convinces him that Ritter and Cutter were responsible.

Next, Ryan arrives at Escobedo's mansion to expose Cortez’s planned treachery. Unfortunately, one of Cortez's men kills Escobedo shortly thereafter, leaving Ryan and Clark to kill Cortez.
Returning to the relative safety of the White House, Ryan confronts President Bennett who smugly informs him that, owing to Ryan keeping his mouth shut he will be in line for all sorts of Presidential perks. The late Adm. Greer will be set up to take the rap for the debacle in Columbia. Ryan refuses, thereby implicating the government in a scandal that is sure to have severe repercussions.

Director Noyce is working from Clancy’s most complex web of internal government intrigue and from a very skillfully adapted screenplay by Donald Stewart, Steven Zaillian and John Milius. The script manages to condense all of the novel’s extensive plot points without discarding any of its’ taut narrative structure. What evolves on screen is a more intricate storyline that often deviates from the novel considerably. That said the film is its own entity, riveting audiences to their seats from beginning to end in a deeply disturbing and exceptionally stylish thriller.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray easily bests the Special Collector’s Edition DVD released several years ago. Then, image quality was more than a tad disappointing. The Blu-Ray doesn’t appear to have been sourced from the same print elements. Colors that were pasty on the SE DVD are more refined on the Blu-Ray, yet curiously still don't pop as they should.

Flesh tones remain oddly pink, but fine detail has been greatly improved. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites however retain a pronounced bluish tint. Overall, the image tightens up for improved clarity. The audio is 5.1 DTS and fairly aggressive. Extras on the Blu-Ray are a direct import from the SE DVD and include a very brief ‘making of’ featurette and theatrical trailer. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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