Summing up our fears

Post-11 September apocalyptic thriller strikes UK cinemas.

James Heartfield

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In Sum of all Fears, belligerent Israelis lose an atomic bomb that is dug up years later by hook-nosed Arabs, bought by a South Africa arms trader (who lives in Syria) for a German Nazi, acting in concert with Russian hardliners and American skinheads to provoke a war between America and Russia.

Hollywood’s first big post-11 September offering Sums up all the Fears in a fanciful reductio ad absurdum that ought to persuade anyone of the improbability of a nuclear attack on the USA.

Originally, the villains were supposed to have been Islamic fundamentalists, but after the attack on the World Trade Centre the filmmakers seem to have decided that plot was too unbelievable, or perhaps too offensive to Islamic terrorists.

Instead, Alan Bates is pressed into service as a German proponent of a stronger Europe, who is of course secretly a Nazi, like his old man (following close on Kiefer Sutherland vehicle 24, America’s appetite for German villains is telling).

The most plausible – and comic – sequence is the massive hissy-fit on airforce one when the National Security Council think that the Russians are attacking them. The Dick Cheney character even has a heart attack in the middle of it all.

The portrayal of the American leadership is less than flattering, with President Fowler being played by sunken-cheeked James Cromwell, who was the racist police chief in LA Confidential, along with a whole host of histrionic exec-types, including the evil senior consultant from Scrubs.

Saving the day, of course, is polyurethane-faced Ben Affleck, the Russia-specialist at the CIA who ends up in the field, before rushing back to burning Baltimore to find his girlfriend in sub-plot taken straight from Mars Attacks!

Morgan Freeman is once again the wise old coon he has been playing ever since Seven – only this time he is head of the CIA. The closing sequence inter-cutting the signing of a new peace treaty between President Fowler and Russian premiere Ciaran Hinds and the assassination of the villains, to the strains of heavy classical music, seems to cast these world leaders as characters out of the Godfather.

Maybe it really was meant to be a parody.

James Heartfield is the author of The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained, Perpetuity Press, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)); and Great Expectations: The Creative Industries in the New Economy, Design Agenda, 2000 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)). He is also coauthor of Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age, Wiley-Academy, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website

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