Thursday, March 05, 2009

Clear and Present Danger

Clear and Present Danger posterClear and Present Danger is a 1994 film directed by Phillip Noyce, based on the book of the same name by Tom Clancy. It stars Harrison Ford as Dr. Jack Ryan, who is appointed the CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence when the existing Director falls ill with pancreatic cancer. The situation Ryan must diffuse begins when a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat finds that an American businessman and his family have been murdered on their yacht off of the Colombian Coast. The murdered man, Peter Hardin, happens to have been a close friend of the President of the United States. It is discovered that Hardin was murdered because of his ties to the Cali Cartel, having skimmed $650 million for his own use. The President tells his National Security Advisor James Cutter that the Colombian drug cartels present a "clear and present danger" to United States national security, and authorizes him to execute a covert operation taking down the men responsible for his friend's death. Meanwhile, Jack Ryan's first job as Deputy Director is to go before United States Congress requesting $70 million in funding for an ongoing CIA investigation of drug activity in Colombia. The Congress agrees on the condition that no military operations will be conducted in the country. James Cutter must keep the military operation authorized by the President a secret from Ryan, so he turns to CIA Deputy Director of Operations Robert Ritter, who helps him assemble a black-ops team under John Clark (Willem Defoe), a secret field operative. Clark and his team travel to Colombia and begin destroying assets of the Cali Cartel, including safehouses, drug lab facilities, and equipment. Meanwhile, Jack Ryan is sent down to Colombia to establish the connection between Hardin and the Cali Cartel so that the President can seize Hardin's money; but behind Ryan's back, the President has already seized Hardin's assets.

The head of the Cali Cartel, Ernesto Escobedo, is enraged when the United States government seizes the $650 million dollars Hardin stole from him. He asks his main operative Feliz Cortez to take care of the problem. Cortez is a former Cuban intelligence officer who is dating an unwitting secretary at the FBI, Moira Wolfson, as a way to get information. He feigns romantic interest in her to find out that the director of the FBI Emil Jacobs is travelling to Colombia to negotiate with the country's attorney-general concerning the seized funds. Without Escobedo's knowledge, Cortez plans an assassination attempt on Jacobs when he arrives to Colombia. As Jacobs, Jack Ryan and some other U.S. officials travel through Bogota, their motorcade is attacked by men on rooftops with rocket launchers. Everyone is killed except for Jack Ryan and two other officials. It is revealed that Cortez' real motivation is to cause distrust among the leaders of the Cali Cartel including Escobedo, none of whom know who ordered the ambush on the FBI Director. This way he can assume control of the cartel himself after the inevitable gang war he presumes will follow. After this, Cortez travels to Washington, D.C. and kills Moira to tie up the last loose end. Back in the White House, James Cutter orders the aerial bombing of a villa where a meeting between the Cartel bosses will occur in order to retaliate for Jacobs' death. The bombing kills everyone in the house, including women and children; Escobedo and Cortez have not yet arrived, and so they are spared. The media is told it is a car bomb set by a rival gang lord. Both Ryan and Cortez suspect something fishy about the "car bomb", and after some investigation, they independently discover it was a U.S. military operation. Cortez uses this knowledge to broker a deal with James Cutter in Washington. Cortez will agree to assassinate Escobedo and lead the Cartel, allowing the FBI to periodically arrest Cartel members to create the illusion that the US administration is winning the war on drugs; Cutter must shut down all operations in Colombia and allow Cortez to destroy John Clark's black ops. The deal is agreed to, and Ritter is told to destroy all the evidence of the deal, but Jack Ryan has recorded the entire meeting without their knowing. Ryan does some further investigations, hacking into Ritter computer account and discovering the details of Cutter and Ritter's work in Colombia. This leads to a confrontation between Ryan and Ritter, in which Ritter informs Ryan that he and Cutter have written permission from the President to conduct the operations in Colombia, and that Ryan will be the scapegoat who is blamed for it all, since he was the one who unknowingly asked for the funding from Congress which made the military operation possible.

The black-ops team is cut off and left for dead in Colombia, and they are ambushed by Cortez' men, much to John Clark's bewilderment. Jack Ryan travels alone to Colombia to find John Clark and save his men. Cutter and Ritter have told Clark that Ryan was responsible for cutting his men off, but Ryan manages to convince Clark of the truth. Together, they mobilize themselves to save the lost soldiers. They buy an aging helicopter using a CIA company check and fly to where the soldiers were attacked, in the jungle. They find the squad's sniper, Domingo Chavez, who informs them that two of his unit members have been taken prisoner by the Cartel's men, and that the rest are dead. Ryan decides to visit Escobedo and inform him of Cortez' deal with Cutter, using a tape-recorder to play him the conversation. Enraged, Escobedo arranges a meeting with Cortez at the Lindo Coffee Factory, where he confronts him. Escobedo is about to kill Cortez when Cortez' henchman kills Escobedo and his men. Ryan, Clark, and Chavez escape the shootout and rescue the two soldiers who are imprisoned downstairs. The helicopter comes to the coffee factory to pick them up, and as they escape, Chavez kills the pursuing Cortez with his sniper. Back in Washington, Ryan angrily confronts the President, who is responsible for the illegal war in Colombia and the deaths of innocent people there. He tells the President that he intends to blow the whistle at a Congressional Oversight Committee session despite the damage that it could do to his career. He walks out of the Oval Office, and the final scene shows Ryan beginning his testimony to Congress.

Colombia is a lush, green country crawling with wealthy drug lords and soldiers. It is very different from what the American government officials who visit the country are used to. Jack Ryan is shocked to see the number of armed soldiers at the airport in Bogota. In the car on the way from the airport, an FBI man asks Ryan, "How's the food down here?", and Ryan replies, "It's like Mexican food. I hate Mexican food". Ryan proceeds to warn the man, "You shouldn't drink the water; you'll be in the can the entire time you're here". These sober Americans are somewhat uncomfortable in the exotic, dangerous, and hot atmosphere of Colombia; they are used to the gray and organized life of Washington D.C.. Even the "bad guys", the drug lords, are portrayed colourfully. They are fabulously wealthy, with vast colonial-style villas set in green hills, and they are always surrounded by their families, with little girls in bright dresses and little boys playing with toys running around, their wives and mothers in the background, keeping everything under control. One scene showing the birthday party of Escobedo's daughter is reminiscent of party scenes in the Godfather movies, where a lavish celebration takes place under the watchful eye of numerous armed men, the danger present even in the midst of a happy family event. For this reason, there is so much outrage after the aerial bombing kills numerous members of the drug lords' families. Family is an essential element of Colombian life, and is mixed even with dangerous business.

This film also portrays the ever-present association of Colombia and drugs. The "War on Drugs" has been an essential policy issue in the United States since the 1960s, and it has largely attacked the supply side of the drug trade. This film depicts the American sentiment that the drug trade is the fault of the drug-producing countries and organizations. In order to appear that the Americans are winning the War on Drugs, Cortez must allow FBI men to arrest Colombians, because this is what make people believe it. Only Escobedo mentions briefly they massive amount of demand for drugs in America that drives their production and trade in South American countries. Scenes showing bricks upon bricks of cocaine being produced by the Cali Cartel create an image of the exaggerated abundance of the substance in Colombia, and its seemingly uncontrolled production as a threat to U.S. national security.

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