Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review

The Plot:

Rebooting Tom Clancy’s iconic espionage hero, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit shows how a young former marine is brought into the ranks of the American CIA, becoming a gifted analyst. But when his work uncovers an international terrorist conspiracy he’s thrown into the middle of life or death action in a race to thwart a devastating attack.

The Good:

Leading man Chris Pine becomes the 4th actor to play Jack Ryan on screen; following in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. Whilst lacking the gruff screen presence of Ford, Pine does at least match the clean cut good looks of the actors who have played a younger Ryan. Advantageously the film is the first to truly give the character a detailed back-story on screen.

Kevin Costner has been enjoying a welcomed career resurgence in recent years and continues to re-establish himself as a credible character actor with a solid performance here as Ryan’s CIA boss/recruiter. Costner’s leading man days may be over thanks to passing time and some box office blunders, but his soft spoken intensity and quiet charisma still lends a lot of presence to the screen.

Likewise, Director Kenneth Branagh does a decent job of also playing lead villain Viktor Cherevin. He at least manages to keep his thick accent from becoming an embarrassing cliché, even though in most other respects he is a rather stereotypical Russian bad guy. Namely a womanizing alcoholic determined to avenge mother Russia thanks to cold war bitterness. At least Branagh manages a few moments of menace and resists the urge to ham things up too badly.

The Bad:

In Clancy’s original books and the previous big screen adventures Jack Ryan has never truly been a super-spy in the mold of James Bond, Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne. Although this new film clearly aims to push the character towards being a more credible action hero, it falls short of giving him that kind of screen presence. Without gadgets, martial arts moves and one liners he lacks that invincible aura. In truth Ryan remains just a smart guy who occasionally has to run towards or away from trouble.

Keira Knightly has as many fierce critics as she does fans. She’s certainly not helped by the fact that her role as Jack’s earnest doctor fiancé only gives her two dimensions and occasionally awkward dialogue to work with.  She’s an obligatory love interest who seems to exist solely as an occasional plot device. Predictably she goes from implausibly helping CIA missions to being a damsel in distress in a matter of minutes.  In truth the film may have been a stronger origin story without her presence.

The film’s biggest problem is that while it’s terrorist attacks and financial crisis themed plot might be timely; it’s not quite as clever as it could or should be. Having Chris Pine briefly explain how stock markets work can’t disguise how transparent it is very early on that the ‘Crazy Russians’ are up to something. Even for a lazy audience most major plot points feel easily foreseeable, almost as if the film lacks the confidence to be overly complex.

The Ugly Truth:

Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit is a watchable action thriller that does a competent job of slightly revamping the character for a new generation. It succeeds far more in this respect than Ben Affleck’s failed attempt to do so in The Sum Of All Fears. However it’s unlikely to spawn a successful new franchise without a more sophisticated plot for any potential sequel.

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