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 411mania » Movies » DVD/Other Reviews

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Blu-Ray Review
Posted by Chad Webb on 06.10.2014

Jack Ryan: Chris Pine
Keira Knightley: Cathy Muller
Kevin Costner: Thomas Harper
Kenneth Branagh: Viktor Cheverin
Lenn Kudrjawizki: Constantin
Colm Feore: Rob Behringer
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Written By: Adam Cozad and David Koepp
Running Time: 105 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: January 17, 2014
Blu-Ray Release Date: June 10, 2014

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language

The Film

In this reboot/origin story, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) decided to devote his life to protecting his country after witnessing the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. He was attending college at the London School of Economics at the time. Later, he enlists in the Marines and is injured in Afghanistan. While undergoing intense rehab, he is recruited by Commander Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) to join the CIA as an analyst. He transitions from that position into being a legit operational agent when he uncovers information of a Russian conspiracy to crash the US economy while undercover on Wall Street. He is then given orders by Harper to travel to Moscow and investigate the situation. The person behind the scheme is Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh), who quickly sees Ryan as a threat and wants him dead. As he escapes murder attempts, Ryan must find a way to infiltrate Cheverin’s offices and download critical corruption files. To make matters more complicated, Ryan’s fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) has followed him to Moscow because she believes he’s cheating.

This is a puzzling franchise. Paramount has never quite found its footing with audiences (or critics) on this property. I'm not sure what the general consensus is on the best entries of this series. For me, The Hunt for Red October is #1, followed by The Sum of All Fears. Alec Baldwin was very good as Jack Ryan and Ben Affleck was as well, though the latter's adventure had its problems. The reason I dug those two is because both actors tried to be Jack Ryan, rather than themselves in an action vehicle. Harrison Ford's stint is probably the most popular, but Ford played that part like Ford played everything. The major flaw with this franchise never getting off the ground properly is that the lead doesn't adapt to the character, the character must adapt to the lead. That doesn't make sense.

I bring all this up because Chris Pine barely tries to channel his inner Jack Ryan in this new flick. Pine comes off as he usually does (See Star Trek, This Means War, Unstoppable). This is just a by-the-numbers action thriller with the Jack Ryan name attached. Considering the wealth of excellent Tom Clancy material out there, it baffles me that Paramount opted instead to have Adam Cozad and David Koepp pen an original story that basically just uses the name. They did the same thing with The Bourne Legacy and that turned out to be a dud as well, quality-wise anyway. Was the goal here a Casino Royale style reboot? If so: mission failed. But I can give any new venture a chance. Unfortunately, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit starts off horribly by displaying clips of the 9/11 tragedy. The reason this sucks is because Kenneth Branagh's aim is to get the viewer emotionally invested in the plot with a real tragedy that actually has nothing to do with the fictional one that dominates the feature. This is in bad taste. We then must endure Ryan surviving a ridiculous helicopter attack. Ugh.

After that the rest is pretty much standard, ordinary political, spy, thriller clichés. Shadow Recruit won't be in the running for worst film of 2014 by any stretch, but it is instantly forgettable. Chris Pine is a fine actor, but I'm not sure he is cut out to be a new action icon. He clearly lacks the range, dedication, and "wink, wink" attitude for it all. He's not terrible, but more of "meh" reaction fits. Kevin Costner is solid, Kenneth Branagh is terrific as the villain, and Keira Knightley is, well, there. The dinner scene where Ryan breaks away to sneak into Branagh's office is probably the most memorable moment, but even that is something you can see on weekly television cut from the same vein.

Perhaps some of you feel that it is wise to approach this series as if it's James Bond. I disagree. Those films were at least comfortable with the character, even if the tone changed throughout the years. The Jack Ryan series has yet to find a groove with its leading man or character. The scripts are almost always boilerplate hum-drum material and the action sequences are rarely anything extraordinary. It needs consistency and drive. Take for example the fight in the back of the van as it is still driving towards the end of Shadow Recruit. It's silly and just doesn't work. The hotel ambush was passable I guess. Branagh knows how to pace his offerings, but the story is too pedestrian for his energy to improve it. Paramount so desperately wants a Bond or Bourne or Hunt of their own, but they should concentrate on developing Mr. Ryan naturally instead of copying the aforementioned heroes. Jack Ryan will never be who they want him to be. Someone should grasp that and move forward in a different direction.

The Video

I may not have been crazy about the film overall, but it does look outstanding from a visual standpoint. The image clarity is top-notch and detail is great whether it be a scene during the daytime or at night, though the fact that the latter is satisfying is especially cool considering how many transfers fail in that area. Facial features, background detail, and the colors are all balanced wonderfully. Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography shines on Blu-Ray. The colors do not bleed and the black levels are sufficiently deep. You might detect light grain, but it only helps the picture quality here. The 1080p High-Definition MPEG-4 AVC transfer is gorgeous and retains the original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The standard DVD is in widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Its quality is quite acceptable.

The Audio

The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack is awesome as well. This is strong audio all around. It comes through the speakers as rich, full, crisp, and appropriately nuanced. Patrick Doyle’s score is spaced competently and does not overwhelm the dialogue at any juncture. All of the action sound effects are flawlessly placed and thorough, whether it is car crashes or bullet fire. All of the ambient noise and background subtleties are clear and precise. All of the actors were lucid and understandable. If you’re looking for a film to use as an example in making your home entertainment system flex its muscles, this is it. You also have the following audio tracks: French: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1, and Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1. In addition, the following subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The same audio tracks and subtitles can be located on the standard DVD.

The Packaging

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is distributed in a standard slimline blue keep case with an embossed cardboard slipsleeve cover on top of that. The menu screens are cool and vivid, containing scenes from the movie with a high-tech frame. Inside the case, which houses the Blu-Ray disc and standard disc on the from and back covers, is your digital copy code, an advertisement for other Jack Ryan Blu-Rays, and a $15 coupon for a Ticketmaster sports event.

The Extras

*The special features below can only be found on the Blu-Ray disc.

Audio Commentary - This track includes actor-director Kenneth Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. This is a fair commentary, nothing special. They discuss the themes of the film, along with the script process and various story points. Random bits about the production overall can also be heard from time to time.

Jack Ryan: Smartest Guy in the Room (13:37) - Your basic “making-of” featurette here where the history of the franchise is covered, followed by everyone praising each other. This is as short as most extras of this ilk and comes off as more of a marketing tool than anything else.

Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit (9:49) – This is self-explanatory based on the title. For this bonus feature, it focuses on Kenneth Branagh’s involvement.

Jack Ryan: Thinking Man of Action (5:19) – This one is all about the stunt work, specifically from Vic Armstrong, who has been in the business for nearly five decades. It’s short, but good.

Old Enemies Return (21:13) – This extra brings in historians and political experts and other smart folk who chat about the background of the plot concerning communism in Russia, the Cold War, and present-day tensions between the US & Russian governments. I appreciate the effort of adding on more bonus features, but this tries to make the film seem more important than it really is.

Deleted & Extended Scenes (5:03) – You can view these with or without commentary from Branagh and di Bonaventura. None are all that spectacular aside from the alternate climax originally planned.

The Film: 4.5/10.0
The Video: 10.0/10.0
The Audio: 10.0/10.0
The Packaging: 8.0/10.0
The Extras: 8.5/10.0

The 411: I didn’t care for this reboot of the Jack Ryan character when I first saw it in theaters, and my opinion did not change with a second viewing. Paramount opts for an original script instead of utilizing anything Clancy wrote and the result is a cookie-cutter political action thriller with the name of Clancy’s character attached. If all you want is to see an actor portraying Jack Ryan, you might dig this. I didn’t. Branagh’s direction is fine, and both he and Costner are solid in supporting roles, but Chris Pine is uninspired and generic as the lead. He fares even worse when compared to his predecessors. The studio evidently wants this to be a long-running action series, but they have yet to find their footing in order to build its momentum. Thumbs down. The Blu-Ray however is absolutely marvelous. The audio and video are stunning and the extras department is pretty robust. If you did enjoy this film, this is worth owning. Otherwise, I would say pass on this. You’re not missing anything if you skip it.
Final Score:  6.5   [ Average ]  legend


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