Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

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Jack Ryan had mastered the game of Hide and Seek.
Jack Ryan had mastered the game of Hide and Seek.

Twitter Plot Summary: Jack Ryan begins, and his first port of call is the old nemesis: Russia.

Five Point Summary:

1. Jack Ryan: The Early Years
2. “You’re operational.” Nice dog, Kevin.
3. What’s she doing here?!
4. The clock’s a-ticking…
5. Very formulaic ending. Very formulaic.

It’s very much a case of Jack Ryan Begins in the latest movie vehicle for Tom Clancy’s analyst spy chap, as Chris Pine becomes the fourth person to play the character (Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck have all had a pop in the past). Trying to avoid taking pages from the James T Kirk playbook, Ryan’s backstory is moved forward to September 2001, where he witnesses the attacks on the World Trade Center. From there he serves in Afghanistan, ends up injured after a helicopter crash, and then has to slowly rehabilitate himself in order to walk again. He does so with the assistance of Keira Knightley’s Cathy, a trainee nurse who later goes on to become his girlfriend. As so often happens. Whilst in physical rehab, Ryan is approached by the Prince of Thieves himself, Kevin Costner, who takes him on as an agent with the CIA and sets him off to work undercover in a Wall Street company. Here he discovers irregularities with a Russian-owned account and thus sets off on his adventure.

The main bulk of the story takes place in Russia as Ryan is attacked by Russian agents, looks slightly puzzled at the fact he’s been made operational, and then more puzzled when Cathy shows up in Russia, on the assumption that he’s having an affair. This conceit to get her involved in the action and give the story a personal edge sits wrong with me. It would have likely taken up more story time than would have been appropriate, but a little more effort in defining their relationship would’ve helped make clear that he wouldn’t have an affair – a ticket stump for a film does not an affair make. Bearing in mind the undercover spy storyline, some of the decisions made by the CIA, in particular when choosing their super secret (read: not so secret) safe house, are particularly silly. Perhaps one more re-write of the script may have been beneficial. Certainly a bit more interplay between Ryan and Cheverin would have been nice, although then there’s the risk that it becomes a sub-par Bond film.

Never criticise Branagh's directorial skills.
Never criticise Branagh’s directorial skills.

Pine is acceptable as Ryan, the lingering shadow of Captain Kirk soon fades as he inhabits the character and you soon forget that he’s also the captain of the Enterprise. Keira Knightley is mostly superfluous as the damsel in distress, but does at least get a hefty scene with Kenneth Branagh in a fancy restaurant. The biggest surprise was how much Kevin Costner had to do – he’s a presence in most of the film and there’s hints that there’s more than meets the eye to his character. Apart from walking around Moscow with a dog at night (don’t ask), he also gets to show off his sniper skills, his hands on approach does at least make a change from the standard “big boss sits at the head of a table somewhere else and looks stern” trope.

Whilst I have no concerns with Branagh’s performance as the big Russian bad Cherevin, when it comes to action thrillers they are better served by having a dedicated director behind the camera rather than one who flits between the two. Not that the direction is bad at all, but at times it feels a touch formulaic. Still, despite any expectations you may have otherwise had, Branagh is at least very good at crafting a tense action sequence. There are a couple of them dropped into the story and they do help to jazz things up, but for the most part there is very little dramatic impetus to the plot. We’re told that the Russians are going to crash the stock market so the American dollar is reduced in value to less than nothing, but whilst it’s entirely believable there’s no feeling that the Russians are going to succeed, and there’s equally no depth to their plans. Sleeper agents, stock market exploitation and so on, fine, but give us a bit more meat to those aspects rather than doing what appears to be the case – seeing it all solely through Jack Ryan’s eyes. In terms of Cherevin himself, he’s not particularly villainous, and prone to being made a fool out of quite frequently. A little more of his villainy would go down a treat.

It’s not going to be winning any awards, but this modern thriller with an old-school tinge is a well made tale albeit one that is lacking in certain areas. You could say it’s merely okay rather than spectacular or a must see. A good effort from all involved, but I’m very much of the opinion that it’s the story at the centre of it all that’s at fault.

Score: 3/5

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