Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst-turned-action-hero-turned-president has had a storied fictional career. The star of 12+ novels (and a secondary character in many more), he has also been the subject of a number of movie adaptations. He was first portrayed on film by Alec Baldwin, in 1990’s The Hunt for Red October — a movie that gave us Sean Connery’s portrayal of Marko Ramius, the only Soviet submarine captain to ever have a thick Scottish accent. In 2018, the character got his first TV adaptation, with Amazon Prime’s Jack Ryan (two seasons are available now, with a third apparently slated for this year). A major supporting character in Clancy’s novels and the movie adaptations is John Kelly/Clark: a former Navy SEAL and Vietnam veteran, he is a black ops specialist frequently called in to help out Ryan, to do the unsavoury things in the dark that Ryan can’t or won’t do.
On screen, the character first appeared in 1994’s Clear and Present Danger — in which Ryan (Harrison Ford) gets tangled up in the drug war — and was portrayed by the ever-excellent Willem Dafoe. In The Sum of All Fears (2002), he was portrayed by Liev Schreiber — a quieter version of the character, perhaps, but no less capable. He was more “spy” than Dafoe’s action-man-in-the-jungle version. He was more Schreiber, really.
This year, we’re getting an adaptation of Clancy’s novel that put Clark front-and-centre: Without Remorse (1993). This time, the character will be portrayed by Michael B. Jordan (one of the best young actors today). Via Collider, here’s the movie’s synopsis:
An elite Navy SEAL uncovers an international conspiracy while seeking justice for the murder of his pregnant wife in ‘Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse’, the explosive origin story of action hero John Clark – one of the most popular characters in author Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan universe. When a squad of Russian soldiers kills his family in retaliation for his role in a top-secret op, Sr. Chief John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) pursues the assassins at all costs. Joining forces with a fellow SEAL (Jodie Turner-Smith) and a shadowy CIA agent (Jamie Bell), Kelly’s mission unwittingly exposes a covert plot that threatens to engulf the U.S. and Russia in an all-out war. Torn between personal honor and loyalty to his country, Kelly must fight his enemies without remorse if he hopes to avert disaster and reveal the powerful figures behind the conspiracy.
Here, too, is the teaser trailer (which doesn’t really do much, if I’m honest):
Clark is also the main character in the novel Rainbow Six, which spawned a number of video games and other media tie-ins. Without Remorse is going to be distributed by Amazon, so I wonder if the powers-that-be are considering a cross-over with the Jack Ryan TV series? It would be quite interesting to see Jordan and John Krasinski on screen together.
In a strange twist of fate, I happen to have been re-watching the Clancy movies over the past couple of months. It’s a testament to how popular Clancy’s novels are/were, that the casts for each of the movies has been pretty uniformly spectacular. I still love Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger, both starring Harrison Ford — his version of Jack Ryan is older, with a more established record and career at the CIA (he’s also married and has kids). The Sum of All Fears, which I watched yesterday, is a pretty good movie that I think fell victim to the Ben Affleck media-circus: it’s a pretty good political/espionage/international thriller. Sure, the pacing in the final act is rather too brisk, but Affleck does a good job of portraying a much younger Ryan, whose confidence is a bit more cocky, and he’s far less cautious than Ford’s version. I also liked that the president and his cabinet lose their polished demeanour when they find themselves in an actual nuclear stand-off — a stark contrast to the practice session that we see in act one. I’ve only seen The Hunt for Red October once, but I’ll re-watch that in the next week or so, as well as Shadow Recruit (2014 — starring the Best Chris: Chris Pine).
I remember spending a school holiday reading a whole bunch of Clancy’s novels. I read the books available in chronological order (of course), but I ended up taking a break before reading Debt of Honor and never picking it up again. The series has continued to grow, with the story focus shifting to the next generation, including Jack Ryan, Jr. Other authors have also stepped in to keep it going (Clancy passed away in 2013). And, of course, there are countless spin-offs and game adaptations. There are now so many different story-strands and sub-series that I’m not sure I’m ever going to read even half of them. I may, however, finish off the “main” series and read Debt of Honor and Executive Orders.
Without Remorse is out now, published by Berkey in North America. (It’s not clear to me how widely available it still is in the UK.)