Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley
Genre: Action/ Thriller
After the events of 9/11 John Patrick ‘Jack’ Ryan (Pine) quits university and enlists in the marines, but a helicopter crash leaves him with severe injuries. While making his recovery he is treated by future fiancée Cathy Muller (Knightley) and is also head hunted by CIA agent Thomas Harper (Costner) who employs Ryan to finish his PhD and work as a covert analyst on Wall Street for the CIA. When uncovering what appears to be anomalies in accounts linked to a bank in Russia owned by Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) he is sent to Moscow to investigate. Once there he uncovers a serious terrorist plot to singlehandedly destroy the USA economy and finds himself severely out of his depth. Things are complicated further when Cathy, who is oblivious to his real job, turns up in Moscow as a surprise. Now, Ryan with the help of Harper must use all his skills (both physical and mental) in a race against time to uncover the complex details of this terrorist plot and stop it before it is too late.
It seems now more than ever that all the Hollywood studios are trying desperately to find the next big franchise, and this time it is the late Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan making a return to the big screen. However, this time not directly based on any of Clancy’s books, this is also a reboot that goes back to the beginning with the origin story of Jack Ryan being a young inexperienced agent working in the post 9/11 world of global terrorism and espionage. Not only is this an original (loose definition of that would however) story, it is also very different to Clancy’s books and goes more for an old fashioned cheesy spy caper that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1980s Bond film. Apparently Adam Cozad’s original script was just a generic action film with Eric Bana in line to star, and then Paramount asked for it to be re-written with the lead character being Jack Ryan. So, basically as per the norm these days, we have a generic action thriller that pays for the right to be part of a franchise but with very little actually do with its predecessors but uses this name so it will recoup its budget. Or maybe I am just cynical?
Unfortunately generic is very much the word that came to mind for me when watching Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit; A plot where those nasty Russians want to upset the glorious west is over twenty years out of date. At 105 minutes this is not a film that sticks around too long and it is certainly entertaining, but extremely forgettable. What I found to be the biggest disappointment was the slightly misleading premise of the whole ‘trust no one’ and Costner saying in the trailer “Sometimes the ones closest to us are the ones we should trust the least”. However this is a film with little tension or intrigue, I do not want silly twists and revelations for the sake of it, but everything is very straight forward as there is a little intrigue at how our hero saves the day, we know he of course will, but none from any other aspect of the plot as the trailer and marketing promises. Some tension and a plot that keeps us on our toes and leaves us guessing all the time if people really are who they say they are would have in my view helped Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit no end. Once again Hollywood has produced a blockbuster that always entertains, but never truly grips. At one point Ryan is on a plane looking at multiple computer screens while telling Costner all his conclusions, I know coincidences always play a part in this genre of film, but this scene goes a little too far and does boarder on farcical. Indeed there does seem to be a serious lack of effort or even an attempt at originality throughout the film, and even the New York set climax feels like it is lacking something. It is also disappointing that a film quite hammy in plot takes itself so seriously and there few laughs to be had.
All this is a shame, because as the latest screen incarnation of Jack Ryan, Pine in my view does an excellent job and proves once again he has what it takes to be a franchise’s leading man. His Kirk is cocky and filled with self belief, but here Pine captures perfectly the initial nervousness of a rookie agent out of his depth. After that inevitable first kill (a scene which unashamedly copies Casino Royale and Bourne), the genuine shock is evident in his face. Of course, with only 105 minutes he changes pretty quickly, but Pine has the right charisma to pull it off. After his best role for years in Man Of Steel, it is good to see Costner appearing in big films again and though it is not exactly a difficult role to play perhaps, Costner underplays his role perfectly and is a perfect antidote to Sir Kenneth Branagh’s scenery chewing and intense stares. In what feels like an audition for a Bond villain but 30 years too late, Branagh seems to be enjoying himself and hams it up perfectly as the nasty old Russian who enjoys torturing people with light bulbs (!). Meanwhile, in a role that was always going to prove annoying because of its nature so it is perhaps not totally all her fault, Keira Knightley is very irritating as Ryan’s fiancé, a character with no depth who is simply there for plot contrived plot convenience.
However, at a suitably lean 105 minutes, and with Branagh’s slick direction and the breakneck editing, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is entertaining enough and hopefully will make enough money for there to be a sequel that the charismatic Pine deserves.
A film supposedly about espionage but without any real intrigue and about intelligence without any, well intelligence: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a generic and hollow film that I expect the late Tom Clancy would not be impressed by. However, with the charismatic Pine as Ryan, and the fast paced plot and lean running time, it is still very enjoyable if slightly forgettable entertainment.