CINEMA / Harrison at the waxworks

WE ALL know about the British film industry, covered in mould and left at the back of the larder. But who's to blame? The government, the producers, the film schools, the morose legion of screenwriters? Hey, here's a new one: how about Britain? It isn't her worst failing, or her most important one, but really the old girl simply doesn't look the part. She's fine on television, but point a movie camera at her and she goes all coy. America was the cradle of cinema, and those early cries seem to have battered the landscape into the right format; the cities grew up, and upwards, into a mythology woven for them by the movies, and still wear it like a good suit to pose for Hollywood's photographs. England shies away; America says cheese.

It happens everywhere: America has the western, but when did a filmed British landscape last move you, rather than remind you of a National Trust drying-up cloth? Michael Powell's A Canterbury Tale, I'd say, made in 1944, or one of his mysterious Scottish sequences. Scotland, in fact, has fared rather better - think of those deep-breathing, luminous beach scenes in Local Hero. But how did small-town America come to stand for a mild but universal heartache, that twin sense of longing and belonging, while English towns shrink into parochial curiosities at a movie's touch? 'I gave up my ticket at Ketchworth,' said Celia Johnson, and you know just how she felt. We all gave up our ticket at Ketchworth.

I found time to ponder these matters during Patriot Games this week. Odd, really, since this is a big American thriller directed by an Australian, Phillip Noyce. But it splits into two distinct chunks: the British bits, which embarrassed and bored me, and the American bits, which had me leaning forward and rattling the ice in my small dustbin of Coca-Cola. Harrison Ford plays Jack Ryan, a retired CIA man with a voice like an old leopard and a wife called Cathy (Anne Archer). They are staying in London with their daughter when Jack is caught up in an IRA attempt to blow up a limousine. He fights back and foils the plot - 'Hero saves Royal cousin,' screams the headline in The Independent, monarchist as ever. Jack then spends the rest of the movie trying to flee from revenge. You know how these things go.

What's dreadful about the British scenes is neither the howlers - nobody is quite sure where or indeed what Kent is, exactly - nor the implausibilities: the Queen's cousin doubling up as Minister of State for Northern Ireland, say, a security horror not helped by the fact that he drives without an escort car. Mind you, I did want to know why brave Harrison Ford was given the KCVO - is he actually a long-serving diplomat from the Home Counties who only pretends to be a CIA analyst with good small-arms technique? The trouble is that the film is even more of a tourist than the Ryan family. It gawps at the changing of the guard, of course, but also treats normal street-life as a parade, and all the local characters - James Fox plays the Minister, Alun Armstrong the rat-faced copper - as a show of clockwork types. Is that how Americans see us, how film makes us appear? No wonder they keep going to Madame Tussaud's. They think it's full of live Englishmen in their natural habitat.

So it's a joy when the action switches to the States, and Noyce knows it. His camera takes a long running jump at the coast of Maryland and soars high over the naval base, just for the hell of it. Here Jack Ryan goes back to teaching, but not for long; soon he gets tensed into classic paranoia - mirrors, backward glances, the soundtrack tickled by a wire brush on drums. As he proved in Dead Calm, Noyce is a great mover and shaker of our fears, but he likes to work inch by inch, not with a monkey-wrench and a megaphone. I loved the car-chase, because (not to spoil it) one party doesn't know that the second party is right behind; a third party does, but he's miles away. And it ends off not with a fireball, but a ghost of smoke over the highway, haunting the eyes of Harrison Ford.

He can take a lot of close-up, not being one of those actors who try to impress the camera by pulling faces. He's only got one face, and it's here to stay. I like him most in action pictures - he pulls off stunts well but wearily, as if there were something or someone else on his mind. Directors who make him merely thoughtful (in Presumed Innocent, for example) tip him into dullness, but Noyce keeps him scared and busy. There's an amazing scene, deep in an electronic bunker, where he and the CIA chiefs watch a terrorist training camp being rubbed out. On satellite, of course - the bright blur of hot images, like those relayed from Stealth bombers during the Gulf war. You remember that weird and distant excitement, as the men around Ryan keep the score: 'That's a kill . . . Target has been neutralised . . . It's over.' But Ryan is quietly aghast, neutralised with shock at what he has set in motion.

The plot winding through all this is stupid enough, although not quite as dumb as it might be. For that you have to go to the original novel by Tom Clancy, for whom every explosion involves a line of white space followed by the word 'BOOM]'. Also, the James Fox character is a cop-out; in the book, we had the Prince and Princess of Wales, who were there right up to the final shoot-out. This meant lots of delicious lines from His Royal Highness ('I am adept with light weapons'), which I was sorry to lose. On the other hand, given current conditions, would He or would He have not told Her to duck under incoming fire? We'll never know. Instead we get a stealthy nightmare - a whole house under attack, with plenty of crawling in and out of coal-chutes. Noyce is a master of closed spaces, and must have been peeved to move outside for the watery climax.

Patriot Games is rot, but much better rot than I expected. Once business is concluded this side of the pond it takes on a new intensity, the thrills carefully pitted with intimacy and rage. Anne Archer is a big help, as she was in Fatal Attraction - steady and solemn, but good with the butt of a shotgun when needs be. And needs be like crazy towards the end, as hordes of Irish fanatics pour in - Patrick Bergin, Polly Walker and a spiteful Sean Bean. The film calls them 'an ultra-violent faction of the IRA', and even calls up Richard Harris as a Sinn Fein veteran to express disgust at their activities. Are we thus supposed to think of normal IRA men as only semi-violent, decent chaps who never dirty themselves with vendettas? If the film were any more serious, that would be a worry. But Patriot Games is a good laugh, and a good look at Harrison Ford, and any connection with political truth, or with the real layout of London, is entirely coincidental.

Tom Kalin's first film is called Swoon, an update on Hitchock's Rope. In 1924 two Chicago lovers, Nathan Leopold (Craig Chester) and Richard Loeb (Daniel Schlachet) kidnapped a boy and clubbed him to death. The defence saved them from the gallows on an insanity plea; the movie finds them not just sane, but cool and amused. Filmed in sugar-soft black and white, catching us out with clean cuts, Swoon is too pleased with its own amoral pose; but Kalin has the same alarming assurance as his heroes, whose story has, if anything, grown in its power to shock.

'Patriot Games' (15): Empire (240 7200), Barbican (638 8891), Camden Parkway (267 7034), Whiteleys (792 3324), MGM Baker St (935 9772), Fulham Rd (370 0265) & Trocadero (434 0031); 'Swoon' (18): Metro (437 0757), Ritzy (737 2121), Camden Parkway. All numbers are 071.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker