The movie is Patriot Games from 1992, but the story goes back a lot further. Ireland is a large island just west of Great Britain and currently comprises the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (Ulster), a dominion of Great Britain. For centuries England completely dominated Ireland. English lived in England and owned the land in Ireland. It was a master-vassal relationship. In a notable example, the Irish farmers grew potatoes and grain. The grain was taken by the English landlords, and the potatoes were left for the Irish to eat. When a potato famine hit in the 19th century the English landlords took the grain and left nothing for the Irish to eat. A million Irish starved to death, and another million migrated to the United States. The Irish had had enough of the English.
The Irish Republican Army conducted asymmetric warfare against the English government starting about 100 years ago, which conflict resulted in the partition of Ireland and the the formation of the independent Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The IRA continued its warfare up to the end of the 20th century, becoming vicious to various degrees. Driving forces were two-fold: Irish Republicans were Catholic, while Ulster was Protestant. The lingering memory of English suppression was the other force. And that’s the basis of this movie.
In recent history, re surging in 1969, the IRA began a stream of attacks on British interests in Ulster and Great Britain. Bombs killed random public workers and officials. British sympathizers were targeted and murdered. Lord Louis Mountbatten, a hero of World War 2 and brother of Prince Phillip, was murdered by the IRA using a bomb set off by remote control. The Guinness Book of World Records was edited by twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter. When Ross became too vocal in his views on the rights of Irish, IRA gunmen shot him dead outside his home in England. Bomb attacks in London killed members of a Royal honor guard and members of a military band. For these and other actions I have never had any sympathy for the IRA. Since their renewed activities in 1969 I viewed them as self-serving dirt bags. And crybabies, as well. They claimed their victims were legitimate targets of war, but then they cried foul whenever the Brits managed to get in the first shot. When IRA plotters were caught on the streets in Gibraltar without their weapons and gunned down, the three killed received favorable comment from some quarters:
Almost two months after the shootings, the documentary Death on the Rock was broadcast on British television. Using reconstructions and eyewitness accounts, it presented the possibility that the three IRA members had been unlawfully killed. The documentary proved extremely controversial; several British newspapers described it as “trial by television”.
By the time Tom Clancy wrote his book in 1987 the violence still had a way to go. The movie captures the supposed mood of Irish terrorist groups and the fallout of the conflict. It’s all about supposed patriots and the games they play.
Harrison Ford is Marine veteran and history professor Jack Ryan. Jack is married to smashingly beautiful and sexy Dr. Cathy Ryan (Anne Archer), and they have a charming little girl Sally (Thora Birch). They are having a wonderful time in London, where Jack is delivering a lecture, and they are making preparations to return home when they encounter Sean Miller (Sean Bean), his brother Patrick, and some others. On a London street an IRA splinter group is attempting to kidnap members of the Royal Family. And here the action of the film, reflecting that of the book, is compelling, as it remains throughout the movie. Up to the final scenes. The action makes the move, and I will recount most of it.
In traffic a vehicle cuts in front of the royals’ special car, forcing it to stop. Sean and Patrick, wearing masks, plant a bomb under the stopped car. Jack immediately sizes up the situation and forces his family to the sidewalk. The bomb shatters the driver’s compartment, and Sean and Patrick machine gun the guards in front. They cannot force the royals to open the passenger door, and they start shooting at the bullet proof compartment.
Jack abandons his family and races into the action. He tackles Sean and seizes his pistol, using it to kill Patrick after he, himself, is shot. He lays down the weapon and collapses when members of the Buckingham Palace guard step into the fray. Other attackers drive quickly away, removing their masks and trying to act nonchalant.
British justice is amazingly swift compared to the American style, because Jack is able to give testimony at Sean’s trial before returning home with his family, wounded. In the United States Jack would be nearing retirement before we got around to bringing the case before a jury. This and some other timing issues are troublesome throughout the movie and the book.
Sean Miller is nothing if not vengeful. He and his teenage brother Patrick were out for an afternoon of murder and kidnap when Jack Ryan stuck his nose into their business and killed young Patrick. Sean wants Jack dead. Sean wants Jack’s family dead. Problem is, Sean is in prison and is headed for “the darkest hole in all of Great Britain.” Not an insurmountable problem, else there would be no movie.
The captains of the IRA are not pleased with Sean’s group and their actions. The attack on the royals has produced some bad press, and IRA chief Jimmy O’Reardon has a guarded talk with Sean’s accomplice Kevin O’Donnell in an Irish pub. Jimmy tells Kevin that Charlie will come by to see him at home that night, and he should listen. Kevin goes home, but he reviews images of British atrocities against the Irish and loads a drum magazine shotgun. Charlie arrives with gunmen to kill Kevin, but Kevin wastes them all and vanishes.
Meanwhile Jimmy checks into a hotel room with a flashy woman who’s been giving him the eye in the pub. After she gets him naked on the bed and herself in just panties and bra, she kills Jimmy with two shots from a pistol with a silencer. The woman is Annette (Polly Walker) and she goes to an antique book store, presumably in London, where she slips a note to the Irish book dealer, Dennis Cooley. In this movie you can distinguish the Irish from the English by their accents. The note asks for information about Sean’s rout to prison.
Even though the Brits set off simultaneously with four or so identical caravans of vehicles, the attackers know the correct route to attack. While the prison van is stopped at a draw bridge the whoosh of RPGs is heard and explosions. Gunmen surround the van and order the occupants to open the door, else a survivor of the attack will be shot. They do, and the gunmen do shoot the remainder of the police. That’s the mood of the conflict between the Irish plotters and the English.
The plotters are then seen in a tramp steamer out on the ocean somewhere. Where to eventually becomes apparent.
Back at his beautiful home along the Chesapeake Bay shore, some CIA friends of Jack’s arrive to tell him that Sean has escaped and may come looking for Jack. Jack is so alerted. Sean calls Jack on the phone and taunts him with threats.
Lecturing at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Jack is interrupted in his lecture by some Navy friends who present him with a mock medal and a ribbon in honor of his escape from death. Jack then leaves the classroom and heads home, but not before encountering one of Sean’s gunmen.
Sean has been advised the group’s goal is to kidnap royals and use them to ransom Irish prisoners, but Sean has made Ryan and his family his number one priority, instead. He plans to eliminate Ryan, the wife and the daughter the same afternoon.
Marine veteran that he is, Jack spots the assassin wearing a Naval Academy workout suit as a disguise. The man is just not acting right. The gunman stalks Jack as he walks to his car, then Jack dodges behind a truck, and they play cat and mouse, the cat having an automatic pistol with a silencer. After a physical encounter Jack is on the pavement, and the assassin is bringing his weapon to bear when the Marines come to the rescue. A Marine sentry shoots the assassin dead.
Jack tries to alert Cathy by phone as she drives home. Get a load of the cell phones of 1992.
Here the movie diverges significantly from the book. In Clancy’s book Sean’s people ally themselves with remnants of the Black Panthers—both having sympathetic revolutionary ideals. What a crock! Clancy’s subplot is absurd and over complicates the story line. The movie producers rightfully dropped any scent of collaboration with American revolutionaries.
Both the book and the movie make great use of the attempt to kill Cathy and Sally on the freeway home from Sally’s school. After some delay (to add tension) Jack gets Cathy on the phone. This causes Cathy to become more alert, and she notices the van making wild maneuvers in traffic. She spots Sean bringing a machine gun up, and this perhaps saves her life. Sean spray’s Cathy’s Porsche with bullets, and she crashes into a barricade. The gunmen make their getaway. Cathy and Sally are taken to a hospital where Sally must have her spleen removed.
Back at their training base in the Libyan desert (how prophetic) Sean learns the sad truth that he has lost another man without accomplishing anything except getting some powerful people mad at him.
Richard Harris (born in Limerick, Ireland) is IRA front man Paddy O’Neil who comes by to remind Jack the IRA had nothing to do with Sean’s actions. Jack tells O’Neil that he does not care who’s to blame, but if O’Neil refuses to expose the perpetrators he will dry up IRA contributions in the United States for years to come. O’Neil swears he will never betray a countryman. In the book, as in the movie, there is a confrontation with O’Neil in a pub in. In the book the pub is run by an Irishman, who is also a Marine veteran. When the pub owner learns IRA agents have targeted a Marine and his wife and child, he throws the IRA elements out of his pub. That made great reading in the book, but it’s absent from the movie.
Jack is back working with the CIA now, his aim in life to eliminate Sean Miller and his gang. British police in Ulster receive an anonymous tip of an IRA bomb factory in an upstairs flat. They raid it and take prisoners. This news is significant. There was no way a casual observer could have known about the bomb factory. Somebody within the IRA has tipped off the police. This is evidence of serious friction between the IRA and splinter groups such as Sean’s.
Jack discusses all of this at CIA headquarters with former CIA co-workers. He starts to have flashbacks. The London street scene just prior to the attack. The street scene at the shooting in Annapolis. He heads off to the restroom, so splash some water in his face. He is distracted by his thoughts. He goes into the women’s restroom by mistake. He stands before the mirror at the wash basin. Flashback continue. A woman with long red hair exits one of the stalls and points out Jack’s mistake. Jack apologizes, but he watches her walk away. He recalls a woman with long red hair. One was in London, and one was in Annapolis. If they can find that woman, they can find Sean.
Paddy O’Neil is helpful. At the hospital where Sally is recovering O’Neil drops a packet on the table where Jack is sitting in the cafeteria. In the packet is information on Annette. Paddy is not betraying an Irish patriot. Annette is English.
Meanwhile, Dennis discovers the police have bugged his book store, and he grabs some of his priceless books and joins Sean and gang in the Libyan desert. The terrorists have no use for Dennis in their operation, and they shoot him and leave him in the desert.
Tracking freighter movements and such the CIA decides to zero in on the multitude of terrorist training bases in North Africa. Narrowing the search to include people who look like Annette and people who look like Dennis, they decide on the correct base to attack. Jack is invited into the situation room to view the attack live on satellite cam. At night, while all occupants are off guard, helicopters with British SAS commando swoop in, viewed by all on infra-red imagery. The camp is exterminated in seconds. No prisoners are taken, but Sean, Annette and Kevin have already flown the coop.
The stage is set for the showdown at Jack’s magnificent home on the coast. It’s a dark and stormy night, and the royal lord that Jack saved from the London attack is visiting to award him with a knighthood (Knight Commander of the Victorian Order). Lightning is flashing outside, and we see men with guns. It is the terrorist or the security guards? Presently the lights go out. But not the lights in the boat house. Jack becomes alarmed. The mole, Watkins, in the British security who has been keeping Sean’s group informed is among the house party, and he has killed a member of the security detail and turned off the power to the house.
Jack searches frantically through the darkened house until he comes across Watkins, who is just coming from the basement. Jack forces Watkins back down into the basement, discovering the murder along the way. When Watkins won’t answer questions Jack shoots him in one knee with his own pistol (silencer, of course). Watkins talks. By now the security detail outside are all dead, and gunmen wearing night vision goggles begin to enter the house.
Cathy and Sally take refuge in an upstairs closet where Cathy confronts and clubs and subdues a gunman who comes looking. Gunmen who come looking for the others in the basement meet with gunfire and two go down. Sean and Annette enter the basement after the others have fled, and Sean opens fire, finishing off the unfortunate Watkins.
Here is a big diversion from the book. In Clancy’s book, by the time of the attack on the house, Sean, an Irish racist at heart, has had his fill with his Black Panther co-conspirator, and he shoots him dead before they charge the house. Clancy made a lot more of the final assault, laying it out like a major infantry operation. The movie version is much cleaner, but not much. Here is where the script writers go off track.
Both the book and the movie involve a pursuit over Chesapeake Bay, Clancy got that part right. In the book Jack leads the terrorist to the waterfront at the Naval Academy, where he organizes a military defense. In the movie there is a long and pointless pursuit across the water, with Jack in the lead and Sean, Kevin and Annette following them in another boat, Sean firing burst after burst from his automatic weapon while Kevin and Annette command him to break of the pointless pursuit. Sean kills the last two of his accomplices and goes on to a fight aboard Jack’s speeding, burning boat. Sean inevitably lands on top of the prongs of an anchor in the bottom of the boat, and Jack jumps overboard right before the boat piles up on the rocks and goes off in a spectacular explosion that is seen for miles, including by the rescue helicopter that has come to the scene of the attack.
The book has a neater conclusion. Jack corners the ruthless Sean on the dock at Annapolis and threatens to shoot him. Sean wets his pants, and Jack gets satisfaction enough from that.
The rest of the movie is just marital bliss.
Some logistics of the plot do not make sense. Sean and accomplices escape England in a ship. They are next seen in the U.S. trying to kill Jack and his family. Then they are in the Libyan desert training for their next mission, presumably having taken another boat ride. It would have been difficult even in the 1980s for known fugitives to use commercial air travel. People arrive at the desert base in Libya by helicopter. Who’s funding all of this? This is a splinter terrorist group, and they have enough money to hire large helicopters at thousands of dollars an hour, and they crisscross the Atlantic in slow steamers and still make the movie time line, all the time evading immigration?
The Wikipedia article on Clancy says he got good reviews on his dialog, but some of the book dialog seems silly and contrived. Writers W. Peter Iliff, Donald E. Stewart and Steven Zaillian did a much better job with the dialog. Not such a good job with plot’s conclusion.