Greatest Movie Series
Franchises of All Time
The "Jack Ryan" Films

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

Jack Ryan Films
The Hunt for Red October (1990) | Patriot Games (1992) | Clear and Present Danger (1994)
The Sum of All Fears (2002)

The "Jack Ryan" Films - Part 3
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
d. Phillip Noyce, 141 minutes

Film Plot Summary

During the credits, a US Coast Guard patrol boat approached and stopped the Enchanter yacht (registered in Mobile, Alabama), a mysterious vessel that attempted to avoid search by flying a Panamanian flag. On board, the officers found "a bad one." At CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) met with Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones) and was assigned the S. Caribbean incident to research, and told to "be discreet." In the White House shortly later, he reported to the US President Bennett (Donald Moffatt) and his advisors about the incident, since the victim on board the yacht was a close friend and political ally of the President. An American businessman named Peter Hardin and his entire family had been brutally murdered in the yacht's master statesroom, and then thrown overboard. The operators of the yacht had previously been arrested for drug trafficking in Bogota, Colombia - they had suspected ties to the Cali Cartel. CIA Deputy Dir. of Operations Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny) called it "straight piracy and murder."

In private, the President implicitly told his NSA Advisor James Cutter (Harris Yulin), "the course of action I'd suggest is a course of action I can't suggest." He then made his unofficial intentions clearer, implying that the individuals in the drug cartel who were responsible must be killed: "These drug cartels present a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States." The scene shifted to Cali, Colombia, to the Hacienda of Ernesto Escobedo (Miguel Sandoval), for the arrival of Escobedo's main henchman and counselor, Intell. Officer Col. Felix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida), a former colonel of Cuban military intelligence. There, Escobedo angrily revealed that the murdered US businessman Hardin had been stealing from him - skimming over $650 million from the cartel. Cortez then revealed that he was using a female insider as his information contact in the US.

Admiral James Greer was diagnosed with aggressive and terminal pancreatic cancer and quickly hospitalized for chemotherapy, and Jack Ryan was provisionally appointed Acting Deputy Director of Intelligence for the CIA in his place, with four words of advice: "Watch your back, Jack." Ryan was to be briefed by Ritter on the US aid program to the Colombians, in preparation for asking Congress for an additional $75 million for the operation. Ritter was upset with Ryan's appointment, fearing his "Boy Scout" attitude would foul plans, and informed NSA Advisor Cutter that they would have to operate secretly in spite of his presence: "He needs to know nothing. He's gonna know nothing." Ritter specifically asked and received from Cutter a written copy of the President's authorization to take "new action against the cartels" - it would be an unauthorized and covert paramilitary operation termed Reciprocity. In Panama City, Panama, Ritter met secretly with secret field operative John Clark (Willem Dafoe), to describe the President's vengeful operation. He hired Clark to lead a black-ops team that would be trained and taken into Colombia to destroy the Cali cartel, specifying the President's intentions to clean up the drug business: "They want what every first-term administration wants - a second term." Clark agreed to the mission, but first demanded money in his account, a comsat link, and an insertion team of Spanish-speaking special-ops men to fight the "discretionary" war.

Cortez flew to the US, posing as Venezuelan businessman Senor Roberto Landa selling tractors (a fictitious name and business front), where he met FBI secretary Moira Wolfson (Ann Magnuson), his unwitting accomplice in the US government, at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. She described "Landa" as a "Latin Jack Ryan" to Ryan's wife Catherine (Anne Archer) when the old acquaintances happened to briefly run into each other at a restaurant. Meanwhile, the FBI's investigation into the Hardin family murders led to suspicions that Hardin, who had invested in a string of shopping centers during a recession, was shielding his record profits from the IRS. The reported $650 million he had skimmed was put into numbered accounts in various off-shore banks - and his partners, the Cali cartel, "killed him for it," according to Ryan, because he stole cartel money: "He was laundering money for the Colombian drug cartels." The President's advisors suggested that if the news became public, they could defuse it by downplaying the President's association with Hardin. Ryan suggested the opposite - if the President were to be asked if he and Hardin were good friends, he should answer: "We're lifelong friends...There's no sense defusing a bomb after it's already gone off."

At Fort Hunter Liggett in California, Clark selected members of his special-ops team for the mission, noting that one of the men was highly-skilled as a sniper, Sgt. Domingo Chavez (Raymond Cruz). Ryan testified before the US Congress to request increased funding for ongoing CIA intelligence operations in Colombia against the drug cartels, giving his word to Senator Mayo (Hope Lange) that no covert military action or black-ops would be used. Assistance would be limited to "supply and advice only" - he was unaware of scheming by Ritter and Cutter to take down the cartels with a secret military incursion into Colombia. In the next nighttime scene, Clark's team was covertly flown to their landing zone in Colombia, as Ritter wrote a communique to Cutter: "They're in. Congratulations, James, You've got your own little war."

In another meeting at the White House, the President demanded that the "$650 million and change" in laundered funds, still in various accounts, be seized: "It's worth ten times that in political capital." Ryan responded: "This connection between Hardin and the cartels is a theory." He specified that he didn't know exactly who Hardin was working for, and announced that the connection would first have to be established. The President then authorized Ryan to take a trip to Colombia to establish the connection - and then seize the funds: "So go down there and establish it." Greer advised Ryan that if he was going to Colombia that he should look up an old friend, John Clark. Greer also advised Ryan about Ritter: "Watch him like a hawk."

In Colombia, the special-ops team began to blow up drug cartel equipment (drug-running planes, underground lab facilities), angering drug czar Ernesto Escobedo. Ryan and other FBI officials traveled to Bogota, Colombia, where they were met at the airport by DEA Task Force Special Agent Jean Fowler (Belita Moreno). Ryan learned that the DEA was still trying to determine the identity of Escobedo's Intelligence Officer. At that same moment, Cortez was speaking to Escobedo. Behind the scenes, Cortez was scheming to ruin Escobedo and steal his cartel business. Ryan met and spoke with Clark in his hotel's lobby, where Ryan divulged that he was positive that Hardin was tied in to the cartels, and that the $650 million was definitely drug money, but it was still unproven. After investigating the case in Colombia, Ryan reported to the President that Hardin was indeed doing illegal business with Escobedo's businesses, importing Lindo Coffee among other things, and "He was paying a little bit too much for this coffee, $6,200 a pound." Ryan also said that the Colombian government demanded to keep the seized funds (the laundered drug money), but the President resisted: "This is our money." The President then arranged for Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Emil Jacobs (Tom Tammi) to join Ryan in Bogota to negotiate with the government's Attorney General for the frozen assets.

Escobedo was infuriated by the destruction of his equipment and facilities, and by the US President's public announcement that in the fight against drugs, he had ordered the seizure of laundered drug money ($650 million) ("They're stealing my money"), as well as the seizure of 20 real-estate joint-venture investments in the US - the "primary agencies in the laundering operations." Cortez learned a vital piece of information through his contact with FBI Director Jacob's secretary Moira Wolfson -- Jacobs was out-of-town, visiting Colombia to negotiate for the seized funds.

Cortez planned a deadly plot to ambush the US convoy in a closed-off street, and in the film's most elaborate and spectacular set-piece, the four-vehicle convoy of US officials was trapped in a narrow street, caught in the middle of gunfire and bazooka-missiles, and everyone except Ryan was either wounded or killed in the intense battle, including Jacobs. Meanwhile, Cortez took care of personal "business in Washington...tying up some loose ends" - killing Moira by breaking her neck when they met for another romantic rendezvous at a wooded, snowy retreat. The President was angered by the brazen massacre in Bogota and vowed to retaliate: "They've directly challenged the sovereign power of the United States." Cutter later interpreted for Ritter: "What he means is, the gloves come off" - and plans were initiated to strike back by eliminating the cartel leaders with another black-ops operation.

A meeting of the Colombian drug cartel leaders (with their innocent families) was scheduled to be held at a country villa to discuss their own suspicions about the convoy ambush, and US efforts to destroy their drug trade. Cortez told Escobedo about the reason for the ambush: "It was done to look like you did it, by one of the others, as you suspected. It's always a friend who hates you most." [The scheming Cortez was using the destructive events to arouse confusion and cause distrust among the other drug leaders, and to seize the "opportunity" to eventually assume control of the entire cartel after everyone was eliminated.] Meanwhile, the simultaneous deaths of Moira and Jacobs, and Moira's association with a "Latin Jack Ryan" (witnessed by Dr. Catherine Ryan) - led investigators to believe that the Latin man's voice, heard on Moira's answering machine, was a middle-aged Cuban who was responsible for both killings - but they didn't know his name. A match was soon made - to Felix V. Cortez, formerly a Colonel in Cuba's intelligence service and associated with a terrorist group in Puerto Rico. Ryan reported his identity to DEA agent Jean Fowler in Bogota.

A US air-strike was authorized to target the residence where the meeting was held, and all of the members were killed, except for Escobedo and Cortez who were late in arriving. The media reported that at least 30 people were killed, including "collateral damage" (women and children), and claimed that the destruction was caused by a car bomb parked outside by one of the drug lords. Ritter was dismayed but vowed it was part of the internal drug war -- "rivalry that ended in the blast of a car bomb." Independently of each other, Ryan and Cortez discovered that the explosion was not a car bomb, but a cellulose encased laser-guided bomb deployed from a US aircraft (Cortez stated: "The Americans are here").

Cortez sent a fax to Cutter, acknowledging that he knew American troops were in Colombia fighting an illegal war. He proposed a meeting at a hotel in Panama City. During their short discussion, Cortez assumed: "You and I want the same thing," and then suggested assassinating Escobedo: "I will take care of the one that got away." He would then take over the drug cartel and restructure the drug trade by regulating it, promising to reduce the shipments and make it appear that the US was winning the drug war: "I will reduce the cocaine shipments to your country by half...regular quotas on major arrests that your police can take credit for...dramatic seizures, drastic reductions, no more senseless violence. You'll have your victory." In exchange, Cutter had to agree to stop Clark's operations in their country, including providing maps of the unit's locations and cutting off communication and support. During their conversation, the DEA taped the conversation and provided Ryan with an audio recording.

Just before Greer died from his invasive cancer, Ryan told him: "Nobody's gonna like what I find." Suspicious about Cutter's meeting in Panama, Ryan proceeded to hack into the office computer of his CIA colleague Ritter, while Ritter himself was deleting all files related to Reciprocity (authorization to invade Colombia with special-ops light infantry, and the provision of equipment to eradicate the Cocaine Cartel). Ryan was able to print out a key document (authorization for Clark to lead the operation) before Ritter discovered Ryan's intrusion and they confronted each other face-to-face. Knowing that he was vulnerable and could be the scapegoat, Ryan was angry about not knowing that troops were used when he had promised Congress otherwise. Ritter gloated that he had official written authorization for Reciprocity from Cutter - and ultimately from the President.

During Greer's stately funeral and burial at Arlington Cemetery, the special-ops unit in Colombia was betrayed, stranded and cut off from US air support and satellite communications behind enemy lines. The group was attacked by cartel members and most were killed. A few of the soldiers (the Captain and Oso) were imprisoned as hostages and scout-point man Chavez was able to escape. Ritter told Clark that all support had been terminated, and then blamed Ryan as a scapegoat for the operation's shutdown: "He found out everything, threatened to walk up the Hill if we didn't shut down the operation." In the meantime, Ryan personally was traveling to Colombia ("with no security") to try and sort out the mess, not knowing that he had been set up -- Clark was told assuringly by Cutter: "Once Ryan's gone, we're back on-line." When Ryan arrived, disgruntled Clark apprehended him, but he was soon convinced of Ryan's honesty and intentions: "I came to help you get those guys out." [Clark phoned Ritter to tell him that Ryan was dead and to ask for the support to be reinstated ("Turn the op back on"), but was ignored. Clark now understood that Ritter and Cutter were responsible for calling off the support.]

With Clark's help, Ryan bought (for $2 million) an aging Bell 412 helicopter and hired a local, retired American pilot to fly it into the jungles of Colombia. There, they located an enraged Chavez, who was partially calmed when Ryan took the blame for stranding the unit. Ryan's strategy was to meet with cartel lord Escobedo at his estate, and with a tape recording of Felix Cortez speaking to Cutter ("You've taken care of the little fish. I will take care of the one that got away"), he revealed how Cortez had betrayed him: "Felix Cortez has sold you out. His next move is to murder you, your family, and to take over the cartel." Together, they drove to Cortez' village hideout, Cafe Lindo and Coffee Factory, where Escobedo accused his intelligence officer of treachery. In a resulting shootout, one of Cortez' men killed Escobedo and his henchmen. Ryan was the next to be killed, but Cortez' henchman was shot by sniper Chavez from a distance.

In the final action scene, Cortez blamed "the American" for killing Escobedo, and with his henchmen battled against Ryan, Clark, and Chavez as they successfully rescued the imprisoned hostages in a basement cell ("We're going home, boys"). Cortez was killed on a rooftop, as Ryan clung to the helicopter as it flew away with Clark and the rescued hostages onboard.

In the film's conclusion, Ryan returned to Washington, DC, where he met with the President in the Oval Office and bluntly told him that he understood the ramifications of the preceding troubling events: "We have to lie." He accused the imperious President of making decisions, when upset, that affected the fate of "American soldiers and innocent civilians...I will not let you dishonor their memories by pretending you had nothing to do with it...As Acting Deputy Director of Intelligence, it is my duty to report this matter to the Senate Oversight Committee." The President smugly replied: "You're not gonna do that...You've got yourself a chip in the big game now. You're gonna tuck that away. You are gonna save that for a time when your own ass is on the line and then you're gonna pull it out, and I'm gonna cash it in for you, right?" The President offered Ryan to keep silent with the promise of future favors - he didn't want the possibility of another scandal of deception that reached "all the way to the top," and threatened that if Ryan testified: "You'll take the blame. Cutter and Ritter will take some, too, but it won't amount to much...The rest of the blame will fall on Greer. Oh yeah, you'll take him down with you, you'll destroy his reputation, but that's as far as it'll go. The old Potomac two-step, Jack." As he walked from the office, Ryan spoke his final words to the President: "I'm sorry, Mr. President, I don't dance."

In the final scene, Ryan was seated before a Congressional oversight committee, where he was sworn in before presenting his testimony.

Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)

Based upon Tom Clancy's novel, written in 1989.

With two Academy Award nominations (and no wins): Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Sound.

With a production budget of $62 million, and box-office gross receipts of $122 million (domestic) and $216 million (worldwide).

Jack Ryan
(Harrison Ford)

Admiral James Greer
(James Earl Jones)

President Bennett
(Donald Moffat)

NSA Advisor James Cutter
(Harris Yulin)

CIA Deputy Dir. of Operations
Robert Ritter
(Henry Czerny)

Drug czar Cali cartel
Ernesto Escobedo
(Miguel Sandoval)

Intell. Officer Col. Felix Cortez
(Joaquim de Almeida)

FBI secretary Moira Wolfson
(Ann Magnuson)

John Clark
(Willem Dafoe)

Sgt. Domingo Chavez
(Raymond Cruz)

Senator Mayo
(Hope Lange)

DEA Task Force Special Agent Jean Fowler
(Belita Moreno)

FBI Director Emil Jacobs
(Tom Tammi)

Dr. "Catherine" Ryan
(Anne Archer)

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