21 August 2019 6707 Views

#TBT: Patriot Games. Looking back at 1992’s Tom Clancy / Harrison Ford Thriller. Just in time for series 2 of Jack Ryan on Amazon!

by James Murphy

Throw-Back Thursday: Patriot Games (1992)

‘How’s the family, Ryan?’


Paramount Pictures. Action Thriller. Part of the Jack Ryan series. Ryan must return to the CIA when he and his family are targeted by a vengeful IRA splinter group. 

Director: Phillip Noyce

Writers: W. Peter Iliff and Donald E. Stewart; Steven Zaillian did uncredited rewrite /polish. Based on the novel by Tom Clancy. 

Stars: Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Sean Bean, Thora Birch, James Earl-Jones, J.E. Freeman, Alex Norton



Flicked around..picked a Jack Ryan /Tom Clancy thriller. Patriot Games (1992). I still love it. One of my most favouritest films!

Is it flawed? Of course! LOTS of ‘oirish’ stereotypes and needless Clannad. British Royalty portrayed as idealised cartoons (the book was even worse: with Prince Charles carrying a gun and killing bad guys). British establishment /Police /Lawyers either very stupid or rather nasty? Cold War style moles /informants at odds with the actual terror threat dynamic. Ultimately contrived and consequence free, via plot holes aplenty (bit like Skyfall: stretches things that one small band of rogue nutters could take on a man with the military might at disposal?).

But..boy does the good outweigh the bad, on seven main fronts.


Atmospheric, throughout: great direction here from Phillip Noyce. Moments of Hitchcock worthy tension! Helped by a mood matching score from James Horner, echoing some of his work on Aliens.


Foresees, in a way, splinter terror dynamics? This is a pre Good Friday Agreement film, when the IRA was still a bogeyman of choice, post Cold War. Make no mistake: these are ruthless, menacing bad guys. NOBODY should be currently complacent about the economic misery and climate of fear that went hand in hand with ‘the troubles’, especially as we talk about ‘hard borders’ and the like. Even an essentially Hollywood product such as this film manages to capture the pervasive gloom that defined the conflict of the time. Never forget that. Ever.

From an American viewpoint, this is pre 9/11, before America had been hit at home and in that sense, its transitional politics are fascinating. President Bill Clinton (happy birthday, btw!) was voted in during 1992: year of this film’s release. He would go onto take direct action in the Northern Ireland peace deal and his fiscal vision led to unprecedented economic stability at home during his Presidential tenure.

So this movie is a third way time capsule, of sorts. Of its time and focused on a hero who could have it all, defending his family and harnessing the imagery and resources of military conflict but without any comic book popcorn patriotism. Blockbusters beyond borders. Same way Jason Bourne would be a left wing answer to James Bond a decade later.


Captures the thrill in the banality and vice versa of intel work: coffee, desks, microfiche vs then emergent PC /satellite stuff. You believe in the communities on show: CIA, Naval Academy, Hospitals, the works. Of its time yet timeless in appeal and charm. Makes you want to go and join up as an academic analyst!


Ford great here. it was a second wind of sorts for him after 3 years in the box office wilderness. Subtle touches here make all the difference, like his wardrobe and facial ticks, that play naturally as opposed to the melodramatic side he’d tried with Regarding Henry /Presumed Innocent just before this. Lop sided grin, finger wag, occasional mumbled monologue to himself; it all works, perfectly. This is not a devil may care rogue or chancer, though.

It’s a very studied, quite restrained and grown up character, who just happens to kick ass when his family and academic life are threatened. White collar lifestyle with a blue collar, down to earth accessibility and charm. You might envy the material success on show, but never begrudge him its enjoyment or protection, because it’s all built on hard work and a civilised, middle class, decent tradition.

Wholesome Americana. This isn’t the Yuppy nightmare template of so many other thrillers in this era, despite trading on similar imagery such as the perfect home /family under threat. The Overlord is the Underdog, somehow. And it works, beautifully so. Mostly thanks to Harrison.

But don’t expect Indiana Solo: this is not really even one of his signature parts. It was a franchise star for hire in the studio system. That said, it feels very right for Ford; managing something different from some of his familiar parts yet somehow remaining as charming, playing similar tunes, but in a more sophisticated key. Harrison enters his fifties onscreen and  sets a tone of embracing his years, all the while remaining vital. It’s his trademark clever trick: having frequently, arguably, acted a bit older/grumpier than his years, anyway, yet always stayed front and centre of the action.

And it’s still working pretty well for him, today, having revisited Han Solo in The Force Awakens and Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049. Next up: Indy 5, Dr Jones! 

An every-man and yet somehow, also a super-man: Ford’s appeal in a snapshot is personified perfectly in Patriot Games. 


Anne Archer just perfect: so beautiful, everyone’s ideal wife! See also: Fatal Attraction. The lady makes the perfection of ordered domesticity every bit as alluring as any action adventure fantasy.


Beautiful house and details like the leaves, kitchen, desks etc. See also: What lies Beneath (2000: also starring Harrison Ford). Stylish, wholesome, inviting, credibly lived in. A kind of vicarious lifestyle experience through production design.


A solid thriller, throughout that immerses you in its world and the possible stakes involved, with Sean Bean a great baddie and some interesting supporting cast members (Alun Armstrong, Samuel L Jackson, Polly Walker).



  • Released in Summer of 1992, alongside Batman Returns, Lethal Weapon 3, Alien 3 and Far and Away. 1992 was not a beloved year; a pervading mood of gloom struck everyone, including the Queen, who called it her ‘annus horribilis’. 
  • Alun Armstrong and Sean Bean also featured in the 1992 series of Inspector Morse: same year this movie came out. 
  • Ford got the Jack Ryan role after Alec Baldwin was forced into a scheduling conflict, having played it before Ford in The Hunt for Red October (1990). Writer of the novels, Tom Clancy, initially bitched about Ford being too old at 50 (despite that actually making logical sense: no way would a 30 something be in the hero’s position, here?).

  • Gabriel Byrne wisely turned down the baddie role; perhaps repelled by the simplified politics and the playing second fiddle to his pal, Harrison Ford. But Byrne also turned down Dracula the same year and that was not such a clever move.
  • Sean Bean was considered for the James Bond role around this time and his casting as the villain opposite Pierce Brosnan’s 007 in GoldenEye arguably gets a dress rehearsal with his turn in Patriot Games? Notice that Judi Dench’s M stresses that ‘Unlike the Americans, we don’t get our bad news from CNN’. Perhaps a nod to the constant presence of rolling news networks playing in the CIA offices at Langley in the Jack Ryan pictures?
  • Ford and Bean’s fight choreography was intense and the final fight was a product of last minute re-shoots. Bean accidentally caught a real punch and was compensated with one of Ford’s suits. See also, Ryan Gosling on set of Blade Runner 2049, who had similar experience and won a wee bottle o’scotch for his trouble.

  • Harrison, of course, went onto play Ryan again in Clear and Present Danger (1994; again directed by Phillip Noyce). But he turned down Sum of All Fears (2002, which starred Ben Affleck, instead); feeling the scripts just did not work for a proposed Ryan thriller in which a nuke goes off, mid movie, thereby making it impossible to retrieve a victory for the hero without trivialising the threat (a fair point).  But Ford did play a very Ryan like President in Air Force One (1997).  Noyce would revisit espionage with 1997’s The Saint (another flawed yet charming and underrated gem: starring Val Kilmer). Noyce even noted Val’s similarities in craft to Harrison on set).

  • Affleck’s Ryan was great too but the film did not get its own sequels. A version of Clancy’s novel, Executive Orders was mooted (President Ryan!), with George Clooney approached /attached, briefly. That would have been absolutely perfect; a role George was born to play. Instead, they tried a reboot with Chris Pine, before the current iteration with Krasinski on Amazon. But Ford’s are still the best imho..


Well worth a watch / re-watch /acquisition on Blu-Ray / Download. 


‘No pancakes, there’s toast..or toast’. 


see below: Politflix podcast on Jack Ryan from 2017, with guest host, Dave Bond! 


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