Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Paramount)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.
Starring Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Alec Utgoff, Peter Andersson, Elena Velikanova, Nonso Anozie, Seth Ayott, Teddy Hefferman, Colm Feore, Gemma Chan.
Written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp, based on characters created by Tom Clancy.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh.
If you ask most spies (should you actually know one), they’d tell you their jobs are nothing like the countless novels published about their profession, not to mention the accompanying movie adaptations. I have known a few folks who specialize in espionage (I could mention them, but I’d have to kill you), and they never mentioned anything about jumping out of cars, taking down assassins in hotel rooms, or going on high-speed chases through the streets of Moscow. They did mention long, tedious hours of going over data, making phone calls and monitoring news media – but that doesn't make a very exciting spy novel, does it? One of the most prolific and successful spy novelists of the past 30 years is the late Tom Clancy, may he rest in peace. Even since his death 4 months ago, Paramount has found a way to keep his characters alive through the release of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
Over the years, a handful of handsome fellow have played Clancy’s hero Jack Ryan, including Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October), Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) and Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears). As time passes, so do the settings for the Jack Ryan films. This time, Jack Ryan’s story takes place in present day and he’s played by Chris Pine (Star Trek). The story begins 12 years earlier as Ryan joins the Marines in the wake of 9/11. When his helicopter is shot down over Afghanistan, he rehabs back home and meets a beautiful medical student named Cathy (Keira Knightley) and is recruited to join the CIA by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner).
Flashing forward more than a decade, Ryan is working undercover on Wall Street, keeping track of some shady Russian investors, while living with Cathy. When the CIA learns the Russians might be planning a hostile takeover of the US economy, Harper sends Ryan to Russia. On arrival, Jack discovers he’s a target of Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directs the film), the ruthless head of the company behind the plot, which also includes plans to bomb Wall Street. Suspecting Jack may be having an affair, Cathy shows up unexpectedly in his hotel room, forcing Harper to use her in a plan to distract Cherevin while Jack does his “spy” thing.
Things go south fast as Jack must race to save Cathy and the world from the evil Russians.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is not a bad film, but it’s not a very clever story, either. There are several moments of tense drama and action, along with an above-average script. The action in the movie is less cerebral stuff, relying on grit and determination. I call it the “Bourne-ification” of Jack Ryan; keeping the intelligence out while focusing on the raw will to survive.
Pine does a great job as an action hero and leading man, while Knightley provides a lot of class and charm (even though her American accent occasionally slips) and Costner is serviceable as the clandestine boss behind Jack’s brilliance.
While giving credence to the fact that Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a spy movie, one must recognize the numerous cinematic liberties taken to keep the audience from dozing off by witnessing the tedious reality of espionage. For instance, most of the complicated “evil Russian plot” is explained during a 2-minute scene set on the flight back from Russia to the US. Major story holes are filled by rapid-fire dialogue between Ryan, Harper and a sizeable team of CIA analysts who are able to unravel the complicated yarn with a few clicks of a mouse. It’s all too convenient, like a chase scene in which a natural motorcycle ramp appears – just in time to make the jump that saves our hero.
In other words, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn't require a lot of thinking – but that doesn't mean you can’t have a little fun by switching off the brain and taking in a little action.