Decidedly old fashioned, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the type of film that will wind up playing on cable (I’m specifically think of a station like TNT) forever, and I mean that as a compliment. The movie is sleek and well made, if not the sort of action flick that seeks to re-invent the genre. Hell, the film barely re-invents the character of Jack Ryan beyond putting Chris Pine in the role. Director/co-star Kenneth Branaugh isn’t who you’d initially think of as the man to make a CIA action thriller, but go figure, he’s more than up to the task. My guess is he really wanted to be the villain here too, and that helped convince him, more so than the screenplay by Adam Cozad and David Koepp. Pine is solid enough here, as is Branaugh, while Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley have less to do than you’d hope. Basically, this is a diverting enough bit of mainstream entertainment that does more right than wrong and represents a better time at the movies than we usually get in January. Had this been a December holiday release, it would have definitely gotten lost in the shuffle, but now at the start of 2014, it has a chance of succeeding. Time will tell in terms of the money, but in terms of quality, it’s certainly good enough.
In rebooting the character, we’re basically just bringing him into the modern world. We first meet Jack Ryan (Pine) while he’s a student at the London School of Economics. When the September 11th terrorist attacks occur, he signs up and joins the military, serving in Afghanistan, where he’s seriously wounded. At Walter Reade, he catches the eye of a nurse named Cathy (Knightley) who will become his fiancée as well as a government agent named Harper (Costner). After observing Jack’s rehab, Harper recruits him to work for the CIA as an undercover financial operative (though I suppose we’re supposed to consider him a “Shadow Recruit”). While basically working on Wall Street as a set of inside eyes and ears for the government, Jack believes that he’s uncovered a Russian plot to forcibly collapse the United States economy through a company run by Viktor Cherevin (Branaugh). Until then used only as a financial analyst, Harper elevates him from being an analyst to a full on spy by sending him to Moscow. There, before long he’s in a fight for his life as he learns just how dangerous Cherevin really is. The wheel is not being re-invented here, trust me, but it does serve its purpose.
I must say, I prefer Chris Pine’s other franchise, especially his performance as Captain Kirk, but he’s a solid enough choice for the new Jack Ryan. He’s better at the action hero stuff than the everyman quality that the character should have, but it’s a successful bit of acting on Pine’s part. Kevin Costner embraces his role of the know it all mentor well enough, though not much is really required of him. Ironically though, it’s Costner’s character that sometimes provides the bits of levity that the film has. He’s underused, but not wasted. As for Keira Knightley, she’s basically wasted, even though it seems like there’s always about to be more for her character to do. Sadly, she doesn’t have too much chemistry with Pine either. Knightley isn’t bad, but she doesn’t bring much to the table her. Finally, Kenneth Branaugh avoids the temptation to chew the scenery, but he does seem to be having some fun, which is good. Some of the other supporting players include Colm Feore and David Paymer, but you’re here to see Pine, I know.
Most of us associate Branaugh with more Shakespearian sorts of works (yes, even Thor), but here he equates himself well enough with a modern spy movie. It’s very much a throwback/old fashioned sort of flick, and I believe that’s quite intentional. Scribes Adam Cozad and David Koepp hit most of the standard issue requirements of the genre, though they never quite up things to anything too memorable. In some ways, this feels like a very average James Bond movie from its more forgettable days (especially a hotel fight and a dinner scene that I’ll leave for you to discover). That may seem a bit harsh for a film I’m recommending, but I think if you see the flick, you’ll understand that the comparison is apt.
Essentially a film that your dad will like (whomever you are), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a popcorn movie that wouldn’t quite feel right in the summer, so it’s sort of perfect for January and even a bit better than the month normally deserves at its peak. This flick won’t change your life, but it should provide a little under two hours worth of escapist entertainment. Don’t set the bar too high and you should like what you see here. A new franchise is launched, so perhaps the next one will up the ante somewhat…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!