Sunday 19 January 2014

Film Review: Jack Ryan - Shadow Recruit

Shadow Recruit is the long-mooted reboot of the popular Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan, whom has a slightly messy cinematic past. The four-film 'franchise' has hopped through three different lead actors (from Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck) across the last twenty years. The last Jack Ryan film, The Sum of All Fears, came out in 2002. 

Now, with Kenneth Branagh at the helm and Chris Pine in the lead-role, Shadow Recruit brings the iconic character back to the big screen for a post-GFC, post-Bourne incarnation. And it is darn good.

Kenneth Branagh is both the villain and director
in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Things kick off with Ryan witnessing the horrific events of 9/11 unfold on the television screen, like most of us did. From here, he enrols into the Marines and ships out to Afghanistan. One crashed helicopter and a broken spine later, and Ryan is back in the US of A re-cooperating and learning how to walk again with the help of his nurse, Cathy (Keira Knightley).

It isn't long before his recovery is spotted by CIA operative William Harper (Kevin Costner) and Ryan is recruited into the Service as a top-secret analyst working an everyday job as cover. Ten years into the job and Ryan is whisked off to Russia to investigate some dodgy account dealings from Kenneth Branagh's shady tycoon character. Except, there is a lot more to it than that, with a sinister plot to bankrupt the US brewing beneath the surface.

First off, let's assess Chris Pine as Jack Ryan himself. Pine has shown in the past that he makes an effective protagonist in JJ Abrams' Star Trek movies; however, on those occasions, Pine was leading an ensemble cast including Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban. He could rely upon, and lean upon, his co-stars to support him.

In Jack Ryan, he is more or less on his own; for the most part of the film, Pine is thrust into the spotlight in the same way as Daniel Craig was with Casino Royale.

It is fortunate then, that Pine doesn't let the film down and brings his A-game. He's no Daniel Craig, or even Matt Damon, but as a meek, young, naive analyst out-of-his-depth in a foreign country, he's great. His performance is much more toned-down and restrained than his role as Captain Kirk. It's not exuberant or showy.

Keira Knightley is Jack Ryan's fiancée, Cathy
In another sense, his performance is possibly too safe or too quiet. One scene in particular where Ryan kills his first enemy operative (in a bathroom no less) should have been a hugely defining moment for the character. Pine's restrained acting holds it back from attaining true Casino Royale brilliance. He's still shaky and jittery, but the emotion didn't strike me as effectively.

It was great to see that the film-makers had made the effort to depict Jack Ryan as a regular guy however, someone who has more brain than brawn. Some of the films best scenes came from watching Ryan put the pieces of the puzzle together rather than punching Russians in the throat. I left the film feeling as though, had someone else had been cast, they wouldn't have done as good a job as Pine did, which was a big plus.

Keira Knightley did a great job in her role as Ryan's fiancée, Cathy. Knightley and Pine worked well together and their on-screen dynamic added a lot of humour to the film, something which I hadn't been expecting. I had been expecting a fairly dour and dry 21st Century spy-thriller, but in actual fact, the film was pretty funny in places. Kevin Costner also had some great one-liners that made me chuckle.

Knightley might irritate some as the 'I don't understand why my boyfriend doesn't pay attention to me' cookie-cutter character (and later, the damsel in distress) but her character does have room to grow and develop more into the future. For some reason, the decision was made to give her character an American accent, when Knightley herself has one of the best natural English accents going which was odd.

Costner didn't bring much to his role as Ryan's senior officer William Harper, predominantly on-screen to simply provide exposition or drop a deadpan wisecrack or two. Like I said, he made me laugh a couple of times but other than that, his role could have been played by someone else and I wouldn't have cared.

I thought the central narrative was kind of generic with Russian sleeper agents, Turkish oil pipelines and attempted terror attacks in America. It's not going to break the mould or reinvent the genre in this sense, but it was still an enjoyable and satisfying story. It took a good hour for the plot to really get motoring however, something which may annoy some people.

Branagh's villain was pleasantly slimy and formidable, but a touch too generic - once again, the cold Russian villain character wasn't anything revolutionary. Branagh acted the character well, but he just wasn't afforded anything meaty or three-dimensional. As director however, Branagh did a great job. There were some moments when the action scenes were choppy and shaky, but for the most part the direction and editing was clean, effective and understated.

The Verdict: 7/10

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a surprisingly satisfying and well-crafted spy thriller that is hopefully a springboard into a blossoming franchise for all involved. Pine is great, Knightley has room to grow and the film didn't speak down to its audience. It's slick, classy and, albeit not perfect,  still a great spy movie to kick off 2014.


  1. Good review. Not a memorable piece of action, but still a very fun one that deserves to be seen if you need some time to get out of the house and check out what this is all about.

    1. Exactly! Hopefully people give it the chance it deserves and it gets a sequel. There are a lot worse films that've had that right :) Thanks for commenting!

  2. This was a very engaging film... action, action and more action with suspense thrown in... I liked it as a typical action spy thriller.



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