FRANCHISE REVIEW: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Ron Seifried | On 17, Jan 2014
“Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit” is not your father’s Jack Ryan. Based on the character created by the late novelist Tom Clancy, this latest incarnation more resembles Jason Bourne and his carbon copies than the analysis in-over-his-head creation of the earlier films. This is the second time the franchise has been rebooted for 21st century audiences, with financial market manipulation and terrorist attacks as the focal point. Warning, Spoiler Alerts ahead.
The first Jack Ryan film not to be based on one of Clancy’s novels, we find the CIA operative tangling once again with present day Russia. The film opens up with the events of 9/11, propelling Ryan (Chris Pine) to quit his doctorate in London and join the U.S. Marines. During a mission in Afghanistan, Ryan sustains his infamous back injury and it is at rehab where he meets his future love interest Cathy Muller, played by Keira Knightley.
The V.A. Medical Center is also where he meets Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), a member of the CIA. Costner wants to utilize Ryan’s academic brilliance by sponsoring his doctorate and eventual undercover placement in a Wall Street financial institute to track terrorist money transactions. Unlike previous versions as a Russian expert, Ryan is a mathematical wizard, trying to merge his ruggedness with a bit of geekdom.
The film flash forwards ten years to present day Manhattan, when undercover financial analyst Ryan discovers suspicious transactions originating in Russia. After reporting his findings to Costner, Ryan heads to Moscow to investigate and that’s where the fun begins.
The retired Marine/financial analyst with bad back ends up in a series of espionage excursions that would make James Bond proud. Jack Ryan transforms into mean, lean fighting machine, ably handling assassins and Russian banker mobsters.
Reality is completely thrown out the window when the suspicious Knightly surprises Ryan in Moscow and is relieved to find out he is working for the CIA instead of having an affair. Within a matter of a few hours, Knightly is recruited in a high level act of espionage, leading to the inevitable hostage situation and car chase. It should also be noted that the N.Y. couple has been together for 10 years and not married, but the tiny engagement ring plays an important part in the streets of Moscow. We’ll gloss over the fact that Knightley managed to leave work, obtain a Visa and arrive in Russia within a day, all deftly explained in sitcom-like dialog sitting next on a bed to a newly discovered gun. Did I say unbelievable?
The action sequences save this film from total disaster. Well paced camera movements and quick editing deliver a formulaic approach to this thriller. One car chase was not enough, so we get two in both Moscow and New York, with a chemical bomb carefully placed in a decoy NYPD van. My years of experience of motorcycle riding apparently were not enough, as Ryan makes a cell phone call during a “French Connection”-like chase in NY, thankfully not to apologize to Knightly again.
Director Kenneth Branagh delivers a great performance as the dying Russian Viktor Cherevin looking to change the world forever from his sleek office decorated with a painting of the Battle of Waterloo, and not from an underground lair. Kevin Costner clearly needs to get more sleep as all of his scenes looked like he didn’t get his morning coffee. His brief action sequence as a sniper gives a new meaning to dry monotone. One suggestion to Keira Knightly is to never use an American accent again. Hopefully she will get some work again in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, or something in a corset. Her part looked to be crammed into the script to accommodate her stature as an actress and not the importance of moving the story forward. If the part was giving to an up and coming actress, she would have remained in the U.S. An uncredited Mikhail Baryshnikov is a Russian government official, somehow controlling events from the Kremlin.
Chris Pine proves once again that any decent actor can play Jack Ryan, and that is the real tragedy of this film. The fifth film in 24 years, there will not be a debate on who is the better Jack Ryan like there is over James Bond. Pine did the best he could with a script loaded with unconvincing plot twists and stilted dialog. Pine is a good actor and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is not a bad film, but it is a movie that will not stand out among other similar spy movies. Branagh is a good director trying his best to capture Jack Ryan’s professorial approach of past outings with a weak script.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is an adequate reboot, but so was Ben Affleck’s “A Sum of All Fears” in 2002. It is only natural for the Skydance Productions to try again with another Jack Ryan film. The character has potential for a longer run, but it needs better scripts. Without the stewardship of franchise creator Tom Clancy, some straight-to-DVD follow-up may be in the cards. Hopefully they will not attempt to remake “The Hunt for Red October,” still the best of the Jack Ryan films, but with franchises rebooting at the current pace, it’s almost inevitable.