Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

In the last seven days there were four separate events about the film awards in the USA. Three were TV broadcasts, and one an announcement across all kinds of media. We started with the Golden Globes last Sunday, January 12th, which was followed by the Critics Choice Awards, the announcement of the Academy Award nominations, and then, the SAG/AFTRA awards on Saturday, January 18th. Is it possible that by now, you may be tiring from all these Award shows and news coverage? So, as a change of pace, let’s look at a film that likely won’t get any nominations or win any awards

Jack Ryan arrived in town, at your local cineplex, on the 17th. Finally. Every one on the planet had expected him on Christmas Day, but the suits over at Paramount, one of the producers AND the distributor in the USA, chose a far safer release date, January 17th.

I know what you’re thinking. Because of the winter weather, pro football playoffs, and the generally widely known fact that January has long been considered as a time when no one opens a film that has hopes of becoming remembered a few months later – so the film must be lacking.

I’m talking Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, and Kenneth Branagh. We all know the character Jack Ryan as he’s been a major player in numerous Tom Clancy books as well as having been portrayed on screen by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford twice, and Ben Affleck. This time, Pine stars as a younger Jack Ryan making this a prequel/reboot because when we first meet this young Ryan, he’s still in college, in post-graduate studies, in London, and he’s not in the CIA or any another government agency.

As the film begins, in London, the date is the afternoon of September 11th, 2001. Jack Ryan has just seen the bombing of the WTC in New York on the British telly. Shortly after that, in cinematic time, Ryan enlists in the Marines, and shortly after that – he is in a helicopter over Afghanistan that is shot down. He suffers severe traumatic injuries. He survives, but he needs a ton of therapy to master the art of walking again. His doctor (actually a med school resident) is a Cathy Muller. Keira Knightley has the role.

While Jack is involved in this physical therapy, he’s visited and recruited by Kevin Costner, as Thomas Harper, to work for the CIA, as an analyst, undercover, at an unnamed major Wall Street firm. Ryan will be looking for patterns, anomalies, unusual transactions, and trading that could be, might be, or would be a part of the planning and funding of terrorists activities.

There was a single humorous line at the meeting between Costner’s Harper, and Pine’s Ryan. Harper asks Ryan about something Ryan wrote, and Ryan responds with ‘How did you get a hold of it. That’s my Dissertation (Ryan is going for a doctorate). Harper smiles sheepishly, extending his arms to the sides, palms up – Jack, I’m CIA. Other than that – it was all business.

Well, now installed as a Compliance Officer on Wall Street,  Jack Ryan discovers some secret accounts held at the firm by its main partner, the Russian, Viktor Cherevin, played by a dour and grim Kenneth Branagh. As expected, Ryan cannot gain access to all of the info. What he does figure out is that Cherevin is trading on the Currency exchanges buying up large amounts of dollars. So he tells Harper, and then his Wall Street boss. As expected, it’s time for Jack to saddle up. Moscow and Cherevin await.

There’s your set up. All the four major players have been introduced. It is a spy-thriller. But that’s as far as I’ll take you regarding what the film is about.

Okay, at best, this film could be called Bond with Brains but not the Bimbos, or, Bourne-Lite. It is by no means a bad film, but something is missing. I guess that missing item could be call ‘caring’. We just can’t get that invested in Pine’s Ryan. It seems that the plot is way too easy to figure out. We always seem to know what’s coming next. Especially since the trailer gives most of the film away. So we never really get to a point where we care about the characters.

Though I did say it is not a bad film, I hesitate to call it anything better than just okay. Branagh’s Cherevin is an unsmiling, charmless  villain. He never smiles, is as expected a megalomaniac, and he believes incorrectly that he’s invulnerable. He also  takes drugs, and thinks every woman in any room is his for the taking.

Pine is okay as the hero, but it is painfully clear, that despite his Marine training, he’s not much of a fighter. He has two fights in the movie. The first is against a brutal security officer employed by Cherevin. We could call this dude an African Oddjob ( a Bond opponent from long ago). Less the bowler hat. The second, in a moving ‘police’ van, is against a Russian terrorist who has been living in the US for about 20 years as a part of a sleeper cell that has just been activated. Branagh does a fine job of making sure we don’t see too much of these fights. His rapid cutting basically just kills the first fight.

Keira Knightly manages to mostly submerge her British accent and comes off as an American who we can’t quite place geographically. She’s no Anne Archer, who was Harrison Ford’s Ryan’s wife in two films. and she hasn’t much to do beyond charming Cherevin as Ryan sneaks off on his assignment to download some files.

The one character that seemed realistic and was very well performed was Costner’s Harper. He recruits, he looks great in his Navy dress uniform, and he’s great in the field with either guns or the technology. Besides that, it is nice to see Kevin Costner back.

The film was directed by Kenneth Branagh. If we take into account the fact that Branagh the director gave us far too many closeups that lasted a bit too long of Branagh the actor, and that he and his film editor did a poor job of cutting together the fight scenes, we can give him a barely passing grade at best.

Harper looks around to make sure no one is watching. He hands Ryan a gun.  You're no longer an analyst Jack. You're operational now.

Harper looks around to make sure no one is watching. He hands Ryan a gun.
You’re no longer an analyst Jack. You’re operational now.

The screenplay was written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp. While the Jack Ryan character is based on the Tom Clancy novels, this film is a new script that is not connected to a specific Clancy book. The scripts lacks, in no particular order – passion, humor, and what I call true edge of your seat thrills or excitement. Ryan solves every puzzle that comes his way far too quickly and easily. The pace is so rapid, that we don’t have time to develop our own thoughts about Ryan.

A rare 'lighter' moment - Ryan: Can you give us a moment? Harper: No. This is geo-politics, not couples therapy...

A rare ‘lighter’ moment –
Ryan: Can you give us a moment?
Harper: No. This is geo-politics, not couples therapy…

The plot is not particularly far fetched – economic collapse and a bombing are the threats, but we spend far too much time watching people read data off a computer screen, or downloading data. The film calls for us to suspend disbelief most of the time – the exception being when Costner is involved.

To be honest, I think I am stretching my rating on this film as far as I can, and I can’t get it any higher than average, or a three point zero on a 1 to 5 scale. I’ll not recommend the film, and my advice is to wait for the DVD.

My last comment is that this January release has been timed perfectly. It would have been crushed by the December releases had they gone head to head against them.

4 thoughts on “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

  1. Good review Mike. It’s not a great movie, but for what it is, and when it’s being released, it’s an okay watch. Nothing special, and surely nothing to last in your mind for long, but still a nice thriller to check out.

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