Entertainment Notes

AN ACTOR IN DANGEROUS TIMES

Ben Affleck thought he was in a thriller, not something reminiscent of real life

June 10 2002
Entertainment Notes

AN ACTOR IN DANGEROUS TIMES

Ben Affleck thought he was in a thriller, not something reminiscent of real life

June 10 2002

AN ACTOR IN DANGEROUS TIMES

Entertainment Notes

Ben Affleck thought he was in a thriller, not something reminiscent of real life

Ben Affleck has a curious problem far a Hollywood star. The new action!adventure movie he stars in—The Sum of All Fears, with a plot centring on terrorists stealing a nuclear bomb and dropping it on American soil— may be too close to real life in the wake of recent warnings from Washington ofthe possibility of new attacks. In Toronto to promote

the movie, which is based on a Tom Clancy novel, a relaxed and reflective Affleck, 29, discussed that controversy and other issues with Macleans writer Shanda Dezieb

Maclean's: The movie seems to be suffering from unfortunate timing.

Affleck: For me, this movie was very much

about playing a character that I’d grown up watching in movies. Clancy’s political thrillers are fun and escapist, and that’s what I thought I was doing. I didn’t think I was doing a drama, which is sort of what it’s turned into: that’s a little bit jarring and disconcerting. I thought the questions I’d be addressing would mostly be about taking

over for Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin. Now irs a whole different set of issues.

Maclean’s: An Internet gossip site recently quoted an anonymous White House official saying President Bush is upset about the timing of this movie.

Affleck: You mean the Drudge Report. Well, there is no public statement from the White House. If the White House had something to say, they would use some means other than an Internet gossip site to say it. If they didn’t think the timing was appropriate, they would have told us, and we, of course, would have changed it. The

interesting thing about that rumour is that it’s directly in contrast to the other thing that people say, which is, ‘Do you think that this movie is furthering the conservative cause of ratcheting up military spending?’ It can’t be both.

Maclean’s: Will controversy help the movie? Affleck: It certainly means the discussion is more interesting. The cautionary elements that Clancy cared very much about, chief among them terrorism, nuclear proliferation and the security of nuclear resources, will be discussed and dealt with—and that’s a good thing. [The movie] reflects a new reality that we all have had to come to accept. It makes me uncomfortable and scared.

Maclean’s: Your next film—about the comic-book superhero Daredevil—will be less controversial.

Affleck: Thankfully, it’s free of all these kinds of concerns. I don’t think we’re likely to see actual vigilantes in leather with horns ruling the streets between now and the time this movie is released. It was one of those things where I thought the passion I had for the Daredevil comic books as a kid outweighed the potential humiliation of doing it terribly. I’d probably regret it forever if I didn’t do it. It’s a less well-known comic book character. And it hasn’t been played by Harrison Ford or Alec Baldwin, so it’s a lower-pressure scenario for me. d

Captain America returnsbut without the Geritol

Poor Harrison Ford. In the trailer to his new submarine thriller, K-19, the 59-year-old actor sports a bad Russian accent and an ill-advised tank top. Meanwhile, Ben Affleck, 30 years his junior, is rejuvenating Ford’s former character, Jack Ryan, in the new Tom Clancy adaptation, The Sum of All Fears. Clancy said all along that Ford was too old, and insinuated he was also too dim, to play Ryan in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994). But Affleck is Clancy’s kind of man, an Academy Award-winning writer (Good Will Hunting) who knows how to kiss butt as well as kick it-he asked for the novelist’s approval.

Affleck’s Ryan is a junior CIA academic-a Russian historian-who sits behind a desk and analyzes political minutiae, like how much weight Russia’s president has put on. But when that portly prez keels over, Ryan-the only expert on the successor -is suddenly called in for a consultation with CIA director William Cabot. Morgan Freeman plays him the way he does many of his characterslike he’s the smartest man in the world, only he'll never admit it. In Sum, Cabot’s advice to Ryan, who’s about to face the intelligence committee, is “Don’t be afraid to tell them you don’t know.” While Affleck’s Ryan is dorky and without airs, he is stubborn and insists, against better judgment, on letting White House officials know just how wrong they are about the new Russian president.

This battle between techie, intuitive CIA researchers and arrogant, militaristic presidential advisers is fascinating. It also raises frightening questions in a post-Sept. 11 world: how many CIA desk jockeys are now saying, “If only they’d listened to me.” The movie, as taut and entertaining as it is, is most remarkable in how much it reflects the current state of unease. In Clancy’s 1991 novel, Arab terror-

ists set off a nuclear bomb during the Super Bowl. In the script, penned long before 9/11, the attackers are a consortium of powerful, rich European fascists who intend to dupe the U.S. and Russia into annihilating each other with nuclear weapons. The resulting destruction, loss of life, chaos and fear are all too familiar.

In bringing this post-Cold War drama to the screen, the filmmakers actually resurrect a Canadian Cold War relic. After its halls were lined with American flags, the Diefenbunker-an underground shelter completed in 1961 as a refuge for federal officials in case of an attack on Ottawastands in for its American counterpart, the Mount Weather Command Center. Other Canadian peculiarities found in the film, which was shot in Montreal, include the CFL’s Argos and Alouettes suited up as fictional Florida and Chicago football teams, and Colm Feore, last seen as Pierre Trudeau in the CBC-TV miniseries, playing the sinister South

African who brokers the nuclear bomb deal.

The pedigree of that bomb and the way it gets transported undetected to the U.S. makes for compelling drama. But during its third act, The Sum of All Fears begins to lose its way. Ryan has information about the coming attack that he’s trying to get to Cabot. But Cabot’s at a football game and can’t hear his cellphone ringing over the noise. You’d think the head of the CIA would be familiar with the vibrate mode. After the bomb goes off, Ryan has more valuable information for the president (James Cromwell), but he faces a time limit and a nuclear-aftermath obstacle course.

Affleck’s action-guy moves-running, stealing a truck, driving through fire, running some more, fighting an Aryan thug-all seem kind of silly. The movie eventually rights itself when Ryan locates a computer and a Pentagon typist. Our hero saves the day with dictation. And Harrison should take note: Ben never once strips down to a tank top. S.D.

Science and humanity

For more than 25 years, American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who died May 20, was probably the finest science popularizar around. His primary vehicle was his monthly essays in Natural History magazine, the last of which have now been published as I Have Landed (Random House). In the engaging prose that marked all his writing, Gould ranges over topics as diverse as feathered dinosaurs, the origins of syphilis,

Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and Sigmund Freuds peculiar theory of evolution. As always, there are the snapshot biographies that clarify hard concepts through sympathetic portraits of the person behind the science. And L Have Landed also includes Goulds heartfelt tribute to the people of Halifax, who welcomed him and 9,000 other stranded air travellers on Sept. 11,2001.