Film Review – Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The first time we saw the character of Jack Ryan on the screen was in The Hunt for Red October (1990), played by Alec Baldwin. Since then, he’s been portrayed by Harrison Ford (Patriot Games/Clear and Present Danger) and Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears). Tom Clancy introduced him in book form back in 1984. I mention this to say Jack’s been around for a while, and in the 21st century, he does feel somewhat of a relic. The Cold War has long been over, and with it a major factor of his identity. With Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), we have an old character in a new world. International threats have evolved into something much different, and while the film wants us to see him as a reinvention, what we’re given is all too familiar.
But familiarity doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Take James Bond for instance. Bond’s been around for over fifty years, and some would argue his recent escapades have been his best. Jack Ryan has a long way to get to 007’s level. Chris Pine takes the role as a younger, fresh-faced version of the character. The screenplay (by Adam Cozad and David Koepp) is the first not to be directly adapted by a Clancy novel. Jack starts out as a college student in London, but after the attacks of 9/11, throws himself into the military. Unfortunately, before his career in the armed forces can take off, a terrible accident leaves him unfit for military service. At least that’s what we’re told, given that he later does all the crazy stunts like his accident never had a real effect.
Pine does an admirable job as the main character, although his depiction fits too closely to a Jason Bourne type – as a lot of action heroes are molded to be these days. Interestingly, the person who recruits Ryan to become a covert operative is played by Kevin Costner. A long time ago, Costner had the kind of star power to actually be Jack Ryan, and I’m sure that’s what the casting department thought when they picked him up for this role. He brings a dry, steely-eyed performance as CIA agent Thomas Harper. Harper sees something special in Ryan, and takes him under his wing before Jack even realizes it.
The potential threats Ryan and Harper face are clusters of forgettable hints and clues merely serving as stepping-stones to the action scenes. We could discuss Jack’s undercover work sneaking around in Wall Street, but it’s all smoke and mirrors pointing toward the main baddie, the Russian Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh)…
…Ok now wait a minute. For all the discussion about updating this character for a new generation, the main threat to national security turns out to still be the Russians? We couldn’t have gotten anything remotely different? Talk about going to the well one too many times…
…Branagh – who also directed the film – plays Cherevin as a quiet and dangerous weirdo. He has the oddest torture habits, willingly kills anyone that even slightly annoys him, and has an office decorated with patterns that can be best described as “headache inducing.” In a way, he’s almost the classic Bond villain. Here is a guy who has clearly achieved financial wealth. Cherevin works in a state of the art building in the heart of Moscow, wears nice clothes, drives fancy cars, and dines in expensive restaurants. I don’t think there’s anything this guy can’t afford. So why is he so hell bent on destroying the United States? Look where you are man! You already have it good, no need to be Mr. Sourpuss!
The plot structure is streamlined to the point where the entire film seems to exist in four extended scenes, most incorporating some type of chase sequence. They’re crafted just like any other action scene today – kinetic energy, a constantly shaking camera, very little coherence regarding the action choreography. It’s not to say the action is terrible, it does have a kind of consistent thrust. The problem is that they’re mostly forgettable; there is no sequence that jumps out and really leaves an impression.
Oh, did I forget to mention Keira Knightley is in this too? She plays Ryan’s girlfriend, Dr. Cathy Muller. Cathy is described as an intelligent and resourceful woman, but that trait is quickly forgone. She’s depicted as overly suspicious, literally following Jack around the world just to make sure he’s not up to any kind of shady affair. When she does get embroiled into the mix, she becomes the clichéd damsel in distress. After she fulfills her role as the helpless woman needing to be rescued, she’s tossed to the side so the boys can finish playing their big boy games.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit starts off at a sluggish pace and only starts to pick up halfway through the runtime. It has some genuine tense moments, but the story remained thin and recycled. After the credits rolled, I was left with a strange, empty feeling. It was as though I watched a rerun of a one hour TV show stretched out to a two hour film.