Film Review: “Sum of All Fears”

Ali Asadullah

Posted Apr 3, 2003      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Film Review: “Sum of All Fears”

By Ali Asadullah


Muslims are not villains in adaptation of Clancy novel.

Surprise, surprise. Sum of All Fears isn’t a movie about Muslims after all. This is quite a shocker for anyone familiar with the Tom Clancy book from which the film was adapted. In the book, Middle East terrorists get their grubby hands on a nuclear device and plot to use it in an attempt to rekindle the Cold War adversarial relationship between the United States and Russia.

Why would anyone want to do that? Because in the book, an impending Middle East peace between Israel and its neighbors is something that the terrorists simply can’t stomach. So by throwing the world into disarray with a U.S.-Russia military conflict, the issue of Palestine is put on the superpowers’ back burners, leaving Israel vulnerable.

I guess that works as a plotline. However, some readers have found the book to be a bit convoluted and difficult to follow. Maybe this is why the movie departs so drastically from the original story.

In the film, it is a Neo-Fascist clique that is responsible for hitting the United States with a nuclear bomb. Where Muslims come into play is in the acquisition of the bomb. As the story goes, in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel, fearing possible defeat at the hands of Egypt and Syria, sent one airplane skywards carrying a single nuclear device to be used as a last ditch measure. The plane was, however, shot down by Arab forces sending the unexploded bomb crashing into the desert to be buried by years of sand.

It is unclear as to whether Clancy, who has written at some length non-fiction works concerning military issues, had any inside track on any such plan by Israel back in 1973. It is widely believed, however, that Israel now does have a nuclear capability and back in 1973 it was rumored that it had some 13 nascent nukes ready for use.

But Sum of All Fears is fiction, and given that the movie is one big “What If?” story, it is to be expected that Clancy would float plausible, yet fictional, scenarios to build up to the catastrophe that takes place in the film.

Eventually, Arabs find the bomb in the desert. It is unclear as to why they are digging sand in the first place; but this is what happens when Hollywood decides to portray Muslims. Often times, the characters are either terrorists or they are woefully ambiguous in their roles. In the case of Sum of All Fears, producers erred on the side of ambiguity, which left the Arab characters as shallow incidentals to the plotline. But in the post 9/11 climate, I suppose many Muslims prefer shallow characters over truly negative portrayals that could rouse irrational fears against Islam and Muslims.

As the movie progresses, it is clear that Neo-Fascists are behind the entire plot. Their characters are chillingly shaped and use some of the more recent instances of right wing gains in European countries such Austria and France to amplify the storyline. One character in particular seems to have been written to remind audiences of Austria’s Jorg Haider; and the writing eerily achieves that goal.

As the film’s television trailers suggest, the Neo-Fascists are successful in detonating a large nuclear device on American soil; and their plan to pin the bombing on Russia works all too well. Tensions escalate. Fighter planes are sent up. Nukes are armed. The world teeters on the brink. And, of course, just before things turn really sour, one of Clancy’s very likable protagonists saves the day.

Ben Afleck plays this protagonist, and despite becoming annoying at times, he pulls it off. The better performance in the film is put in by Morgan Freeman, who plays the director of the CIA. Freeman needs more good roles and should be used as a leading man, not as just a great character actor.

In all, the film is decent. There is currently a lot of fear over what has happened to Soviet-era nukes as the former Communist empire has splintered and reorganized. So the scenario put forth in the film isn’t totally far-fetched.

Muslims will just be happy to have narrowly escaped being portrayed as rabid, America-hating terrorists once again. Muslims will also be pleased to see the issue of Chechnya treated with more than the kid-glove approach employed by George W. Bush. In fact, the American administration in the film is quite strident in its action with regard to Chechnya.

There are some scenes of violence including some assassinations that Muslims would want to watch out for. Additionally there is some romantic involvement between Afleck and his love interest in the film. This includes some kissing and hugging and whatnot, and though instances of such activity are short and incidental to the film, Muslims would want to be on guard.

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