Font to Film: “Clear and Present Danger”

In 1989, Tom Clancy brought back Jack Ryan, the hero of his earlier novel Patriot Games (1987), for a 700-page tome exploring the American war on drugs. Clear and Present Danger is a true doorstop of a book, featuring a large and potentially confusing cast of characters operating across continents in service of a mission about which few are in possession of all the details. The 1994 film version—starring Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, and Joaquim de Almeida—greatly simplifies the cast and plot while still managing to deliver a powerful and compelling story that covers much of the same thematic ground as its source material.

Mustering up the will to crack open Clear and Present Danger can be tough, especially if you aren’t used to novels of this size, but Clancy does a good job of starting strong with a series of compelling events that pull you into the plot immediately. What is less apparent from the start is how the various characters and settings are ultimately going to tie together, but the slow reveal there is, after all, part of the appeal of the genre. Our introduction to the novel’s plot is the brutal murder of a family aboard their boat by two drug runners, an event which leads to the revelation that the boat owner was involved with laundering large sums of money for a Colombian drug cartel. The President of the United States decides on a course of action—motivated in no small part by an upcoming election—which is designed to curb the flow of illegal drugs into the country and involves a good deal of clandestine action abroad. When the cartel begins pushing back, things begin to unravel, and Jack Ryan is faced with the task of uncovering exactly what is going on and finding a way to minimize the damage as powerful political entities threaten to sweep the operation under the rug.
The film version of Clear and Present Danger, directed by Phillip Noyce, is a pretty typical example of what tends to happen when a book is adapted for the screen: characters disappear or are merged, certain scenes and subplots are eliminated, and the story as a whole is somewhat simplified. However, the film is also an example of how these types of changes do not necessarily harm the final product. Noyce’s version did not suffer as a result of its adaptation; the film was well-received, managing to adequately capture the essence of Clancy’s original while accommodating the fundamental differences between the two formats. Harrison Ford gives a strong performance as Jack Ryan, shifting seamlessly between scenes of intrigue and action and ably supported by such talents as James Earl Jones and Raymond Cruz, in addition to Dafoe and de Almeida. And while simplified, the story holds its own as an entity independent of the book, and can be fully appreciated by audiences who are wholly unfamiliar with the original—something which cannot always be said of lazier adaptations. Simply put, Clear and Present Danger is not only good by the standards of adaptations, it is good by the standards of movies in general.

Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger is available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library in both book and audiobook (cassette) format, or you can download the eBook to your device through OverDrive. The film is also available at Foster as part of our first-floor DVD collection. If the version you are interested in is not on the shelf at your local branch, you can request for a copy to be delivered to your home branch in person, over the phone, or online through our catalog.

 

Deployed by Ronald Martin.