A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Clear and Present Danger, a 1994 film based on novelist Tom Clancy's 1989 CIA thriller, is a cynical look at U.S. government corruption. The war on drugs, the billion-dollar drug industry, its murderous cartels, and a secret, illegal military plot hatched by a U.S. president to garner good PR all play roles in a deception that only one honest man, CIA deputy director Jack Ryan, can fix. Drug processing factories are shown, and lots of armed cartel henchmen shoot at each other. They engage with clandestine American soldiers in gunfire and missile warfare. Bloodied shooting victims are seen. U.S. government officials casually accept the deaths of innocent children as "collateral damage." Soldiers and cartel mercenaries shoot people and fire missiles at cars and vans. Bodies mount up in the wake of shootings and explosions. A motorcade of officials is attacked by snipers. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "ass."
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What's the story?
In CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, deputy CIA director Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is asked to investigate who murdered a close friend of the president (Donald Moffat). He learns the friend was laundering drug money for the Colombian cartel but took too much off the top, a swindle that led to his demise. As the investigation continues, the president orders his top aides to organize a secret paramilitary assault in Colombia on the drug lord, without congressional permission or knowledge. The move is designed to slow the drug trade and to create optics that the president's other policies are stemming the flow of drugs into the United States. Unaware of the plan, Ryan assures Congress that increased funding in the drug war won't be used to put American troops in Colombia, but that's exactly what happens to the funds. When Ryan figures out that presidential aides Ritter (Henry Czerny) and Cutter (Harris Yulin) are running the op, he sets out to expose the wrongdoing and personally save the abandoned American combatants captured by the drug lords (Joaquim de Almeida and Miguel Sandoval).
Is it any good?
Clear and Present Danger is a generic shoot-'em-up that is politically all over the place and a good 20 minutes too long. Our credulity is meant to be stretched, as the hero is a gun-less CIA wonk who willingly runs into life-threatening situations. On the one hand, the U.S. government players (president and advisers) are self-serving and cynical, but on the other, Ryan, another government employee and political appointee, is the only guy with a conscience in the whole story. So the government is at fault but the government also solves the problem.
Ford is great, as always, at using facial muscles to express worry, and that talent is perfectly applied here because Ryan has much to worry about. He also does a good job at outrage, Ryan's other prominent emotion, over the president's callous willingness to abandon wounded captured soldiers to their terrible fate in the hands of the cartel. Still, many other movies about clandestine military ops are far more sophisticated and nuanced than this.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the actual existence of illegal American operations, including a plot to kill Cuban president Castro, the assassination of Chile's president Allende, and the illegal secret plot to arm Nicaraguan Contras against Sandinistas during the Reagan administration. In comparison, how far-fetched does the plot of Clear and Present Danger seem?
Do you believe that a desk jockey deputy CIA director, who doesn't carry or operate a weapon during the movie, would heroically insist on personally helping to rescue imprisoned Americans in bullet-torn Colombia? Does it matter if it isn't realistic?
Do you expect the president and other corrupt administration members to try to neutralize the troublesome Ryan? Is the movie's ending believable? Why or why not?
- In theaters: August 3, 1994
- On DVD or streaming: May 6, 2003
- Cast: Harrison Ford, James Earl Jones, Miguel Sandoval, Joaquim De Almeida, Henry Czerny, Donald Moffat
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 141 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: for some intense action/violence and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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