On Harrison Ford

This piece is dedicated to my good friend and trusted cinematographer Steve Schneider.

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Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to two Tom Clancy novels in the late eighties that they turned over to Phillip Noyce, a veteran director of thrillers, to direct as vehicles for actor Harrison Ford.  In both of Noyce’s films, Patriot Games (1992) and Clear & Present Danger (1994), Harrison Ford plays CIA Deputy Of Intelligence Jack P. Ryan, assuming a role played by Alec Baldwin in the film The Hunt For Red October (1990).  These two films were a successful attempt by Paramount to cash in on the anticipation of the first Pierce Brosnan Bond film Golden Eye (1995) and the box office sensation that was Harrison Ford.  As films Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger are both modest espionage thrillers with very little in the way of anything exceptional to offer audiences.  What is interesting about these films is how their star, Harrison Ford, acts as a kind of barometer to a change in taste and a change in the times.

Consider Harrison Ford’s two previous franchises, where he played two very similar but equally iconic characters, Indiana Jones and Star Wars.  As either Dr. Henry Jones Jr. or Han Solo, Ford epitomized the freewheeling’ and independent macho male with a darker, more sensitive side.  These two characters reflect a baby boomer ideology, a perception of what it means to be “a man” as the seventies faded into the eighties.  Neither Indiana Jones nor Han Solo have any responsibilities except to themselves and their own ideals, and both characters also function as chivalrous romantics.

By the time Harrison Ford played Jack Ryan on the big screen, nearly a decade had passed since he last played Han Solo in Return Of The Jedi (1983).  In the decade that had lapsed the baby boomers that thrilled to the adventures of Han Solo and his courtship of Princess Leia had all gotten married and found a means of a stable income.  The situation baby boomers found themselves in during the early nineties is very similar to the domestic life of Harrison Ford’s character of Jack Ryan.  Ryan is married, he has children, he has a stable job, and it is even alluded to that he was a Vietnam War veteran.  In this way Harrison Ford’s life on screen mirrors that of the audience just as it had in Star Wars (1977) and Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981).

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Even the threats to Harrison Ford’s happiness metamorphosed on the screen from Nazis and Death Stars to terrorists and drug cartels.  Jack Ryan’s (and in turn Harrison Ford’s image’s) concerns are real ones, are problems that are as tangible in the “real world”, or at least as tangible as a Hollywood blockbuster can afford to be.  But this shift away from the fantastic does not carry over into the kind of action hero antics Harrison Ford finds himself in.  Ford as Jack Ryan is still as superhuman and pure as Indiana Jones or Han Solo.  This suggests that audiences associate Ford’s aptitude for heroics on screen not with his characters but rather with himself, the actor playing the part.

-Robert Curry

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