Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 01.17.2014
The late Tom Clancy's landmark character of Jack Ryan returns to the cinema for the first time in over 10 years with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Is this new iteration of the character a spy thriller worthy of your attention, or is it one to avoid? Jeffrey Harris checks in with his official review.
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh Written By: Adam Cozad and David Koepp; Based on the characters created by Tom Clancy Runtime: 106 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Jack Ryan - Chris Pine William Harper - Kevin Costner Viktor Cherevin - Kenneth Branagh Cathy Muller - Keira Knightley Robert Behringer - Colm Feore Aleksandr Borovsky - Alec Utgoff Amy Chang - Gemma Chan Embee Deng - Nonso Anozie Constantin - Lenn Kudrjawizki Katya - Elena Velikanova Penn - Karen David
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the fifth film iteration featuring the popular spy genre character Jack Ryan, created by late writer Tom Clancy. Over several films, the role has previously been played by the likes of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is essentially a new film reboot of the character, not unlike Affleckís version in The Sum of All Fears. It always seemed odd that a sequel for Fears never materialized considering it was a box office success, but Affleckís toxic reputation at the box office in his numerous films that followed might have had something to do with it. Shadow Recruit sees Star Trek star Chris Pine step into the famous shoes of Ryan, perhaps trying to duplicate the success in which he helped re-launch the Trek franchise as the new Capt. James T. Kirk.
Shadow Recruit goes back to square one with Ryan, showing him as a young man and economics student enrolled at Oxford around the time of 9/11. Stricken cold after witnessing the attacks on the Twin Towers, Ryan feels a calling to protect and serve his country and enlists in the Marines. His analytical insight is generally ignored by the higher-ups until after the chopper with his unit is shot down in Afghanistan, giving him a debilitating back injury that takes him out of the field. Encouraged by the flirtatious cow eyes he makes with his lovely physical therapist, med student Cathy Muller (Knightley), Jack is able to rally back and walk again without using crutches. His recovery and keen mind is taken notice of by high-ranking CIA analyst William Harper (Costner), who recruits Jack to infiltrate fancy pants Wall Street firms to monitor transactions that could lead the government to terrorist threats.
Some years later, Ryan is recovered and now living with Cathy in New York, where she works as a doctor and he a Wall Street analyst. Ryan and Cathy are engaged, but she appears to be skittish about marrying him, worried heís hiding something from her and unaware of his double-life as a CIA watchdog. Later, Jack stumbles onto some inaccessible accounts by a powerful client of his firm, Viktor Cherevin (Branagh doubling as director and co-star), which he believes are a hint of something more nefarious. Harper orders Jack to go to Moscow to personally try and infiltrate the systems of Cherevinís company to find out what heís up to. Cherevin is in fact part of a covert Russian group charged with enacting a devastating attack on the United States since the government opted out of supporting Russia with an oil pipeline venture.
Iíve always been a fan of the spy thriller genre, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is no exception. Chris Pine with his strong charisma, and energy is a welcome rendition of the Jack Ryan character. Unfortunately, due to the inconsistency that has often surrounded the Jack Ryan film franchise, one worries if he wonít be swapped out for someone else in the next few years or so. Costner has a great presence in the role of Harper. Itís quite interesting seeing him as Jack Ryanís mentor, considering Jack Ryan wouldíve been a role thatís right in his wheelhouse about 20 or so years ago. Now at the age of 58, Costner seems more well suited than ever to play the mentor and father figure to famous fictional characters such as the likes of Jack Ryan and Superman.
The issues Shadow Recruit has is that the script written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp is quite clunky in places. Some scenes, such as a brief subplot with David Paymer and a nefarious Russian politician stick out and contextually donít gel very well with the rest of the movie. Some of the writing is a little on the flabby. Other than that, Branaghís direction tends to elevate the weaker parts with great pacing and some well-shot, suspenseful sequences. Jackís complex break-in of Cheverinís office specifically was very well done.
The villains in this film are your typical, slimy, reptilian Russians, right out of a 1980ís Cold War era action movie. Including Branaghís performance, they are borderline caricatures of Russian bad guys. Considering in recent times that bad guys in these sorts of stories are now coming from the Middle East or North Korea, itís arguably antiquated for the bad guys to be remnants of the bygone Soviet era. That aside, personally speaking, thatís part of the appeal of the movie. Branaghís performance is goofy at times, but thatís part of what makes the movie so fun to watch. This is not the more morally complex, shades of grey spy world of stories like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Bourne Identity, or even the more recent installments of the James Bond 007 movie franchise. And that makes for a welcome change of pace. The movie generally avoids political soap-boxing. The good guys are good. The bad guys are bad.
At a runtime of just over 105 minutes, Branagh delivers a tight, taut, enjoyable spy thriller. The visuals and locations are slickly presented. The action and suspense sequences are generously sprinkled throughout. The story doesn'tít raise any big moral questions and quandaries about the spy world. Itís more of a reintroduction of the Jack Ryan character to the cinemas facing his first major threat, and for this experience, that worked totally fine.
The 411: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is not the strongest script, but its elevated by strong performances from Pine and Costner as well as Branagh's great direction. The story has tight pacing, good action, and some fun though albeit rather cliche Russian baddies. The story avoids the more shaky moral questions around the CIA and the spy world. This allows for a story for Ryan to showcase himself as a more heroic figure out to save the country.