Jack Ryan: Shadow RecruitReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 01/19/14 04:18:27
(Worth A Look)
It seems a little silly that the advertising for "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" talked about "redefining the Tom Clancy thriller", as if "Tom Clancy" was a genre rather than a specific author, but the truth is, it always has been, even before Clancy started franchising his name and using co-authors on the more recent Jack Ryan novels. And while this latest run at Ryan doesn't do anything as grandiose as that, it's an entertaining enough thriller that maybe does a better job of bringing a Cold War franchise into a post-9/11 world than Clancy himself managed.The attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon is now a formative event in Jack Ryan's life, happening while he was studying economics in London. This leads him to join the military and be recruited by the CIA after an injury leaves him with a long recovery; handler Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) places him in a Wall Street brokerage firm to ferret out the people who fund terrorists. Now, Ryan (Chris Pine) has discovered a trail leading back to Russian oligarch Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), whose plot may lead to global economic catastrophe.
"Global economic catastrophe" doesn't quite sound as viscerally terrifying as nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, but give screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp credit; they make a case for the stakes being high even if the trigger and mechanics of the plot sometimes sound like one would need Ryan's PhD to understand the whole of it. They also do a fair job on the Batman Begins elements - things like Ryan's injury and recovery, work in brokerage firms, and meeting Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) have always been a part of the character's backstory without being at the forefront until this back-to-the-beginning project. Some of those bits may not necessarily be that important, but their inclusion does actually do a fair job of making this character feel like Jack Ryan, rather than just Paramount reusing a familiar name.
And truth be told, Chris Pine may be the best Ryan yet. That's no knock on the excellent list of actors to play the character before, but the Ryan of the early books and films adapting them was more than a bit of a Mary Sue, Clancy inserting an idealized version of himself. This version is, too, but he's also a little more brash and otherwise built to Pine's strengths, a good blend of the man of action and guy who is genuinely valuable behind a desk. Pine is pretty good at getting emotion out during action as well; his best moment connecting with the audience is during and in the aftermath of a brutal fight scene. In some ways, it's Kevin Costner who is playing something like the Ryan of the books, particularly the later ones (finally, after having passed on The Hunt for Red October); his Thomas Harper is a gruff fellow who gets the story from A to B without making much use of Costner's ability to be charming or sinister. Keria Knightley gets a little more out of Cathy; she's there to fill a slot, but the script lets her be smart even in situations that would make other girlfriends stupid, and she plays the sequence she shares with both Pine and Branagh just right.
Director and co-star Kenneth Branagh turns out to be an asset both in front of and behind the camera, which shouldn't be a surprise even if he has seemed more a hired hand than a great actor and filmmaker for roughly the last decade. He gives Cherevin a weariness that makes him more interesting than the typical villain without ever bringing him near to sympathetic, a nice contrast to Pine's enthusiastic youth. As director, he keeps things moving while also finding moments to let the audience enjoy "visiting" Moscow or feel how overwhelmed Ryan may feel. He and veteran stunt co-ordinator/second unit director Vic Armstrong also stage some nice action - not exactly the biggest scenes you've seen in a spy movie, but interesting and exciting.As a long-time (if somewhat lapsed) fan of Tom Clancy's, I must admit to being a bit disappointed that the new Jack Ryan movie is a somewhat smaller origin story rather than an adaptation of some of the more ambitious entries in the series. Fortunately, "Shadow Recruit" is a fairly entertaining thriller with a good team behind it, and there's no reason for it not to do well enough that it could be followed by some of those bigger sequels.
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