TWITTER: The heart-pounding #JackRyanMovie Shadow Recruit is a smart, wild, and entertaining ride.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has all the trappings of a great franchise in the making.
Among our many movie fetishes, we here at SJF are big fans of intelligent spy movies that incorporate a sensible amount of action - from Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy we love espionage in almost any form, including the stylish Skyfall and what should have been last year's Oscar winner in Zero Dark Thirty. In each of these classics, the characters who protect us are as important as the mission itself, making their drama an essential part of the story. Thankfully, the newest candidate - Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - impresses us for all of these reasons.
As this is an origin story, we see the college-bound Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) studying in England just as the 9/11 attacks occur. As a result, he volunteers for the Marines, and two years later is in Afghanistan when his chopper is attacked, leaving him nearly paralyzed. As he struggles to walk again, Ryan meets the doctor Caroline 'Cathy' Muller (Keira Knightley) and the two fall in love. But the CIA, led by Agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), wants Ryan to analyze financial transactions, hoping to discover the next 9/11. He soon finds it, along with its source, the dangerous Russian banker Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). He plans to ruin the American Dollar via a terrorist attack and the resutling sell-off of currency, hoping the attack will bankrupt ol' Stars and Stripes. Jack heads to Moscow, but soon learns that oblivious Cathy has unexpectedly followed him. Faced with Cherevin's devious plan and keeping Cathy out of the loop, Ryan must walk a fine line of political intrigue and assassination plots before the attack arrives.
Although not directly based on the late author Tom Clancy's series of novels, Shadow Recruit does blend his characters with modern-day politics into a pulpy and satisfying drink. We like Pine in almost everything he's done - like Gerard Butler, Pine has been underutilized in Hollywood, but always seems to be the topic of 'franchise building' when rumors and debate about casting begin. Our appreciation for Pine is for perhaps the wrong reason - he's not a perfectly sculpted hero, with his imperfect facial features actually lending to the grittiness which Shadow Recruit loves to highlight. His interaction with Costner and Director/Actor Branagh, who makes a thoroughly dastardly Russian baddie, is convincing and never feels forced. This really is Branagh's show, with his directorial acumen on display throughout, as well as his superb ability to transform himself into any character. From Thor to his directorial debut in Dead Again, Branagh seems to understand tone and pacing so well that he can produce both at the drop of a hat, instantly wrapping audiences into whatever spider web he desires. Costner, who's enjoying a nice revival of his career since Man of Steel, operates here with cool efficiency and the skill of an Equalizer-like Control that we didn't foresee before the lights dimmed. There's talk that Harper could get his own spin-off, and if it's done correctly we'd love to see Costner return.
We also love the human story courtesy of Writers Adam Cozad and David Koepp, who personalize Jack Ryan as more of a common hero than someone chiseled from marble and destined for greatness. This was one of many strengths behind the Clancy novels, and it's great that our creative team included it here. And while character development is a priority, other issues sometimes arise: we hate the trend these days of computers being able to instantly solve any problem which spy networks seem to uncover. The idea that even a well-trained operative can punch a button to somehow deliver instantaneous answers, instead of realistically performing the research or considering it among a team of colleagues, occurs far too often and way too quickly. The result is a discovery sequence that feels like a rollercoaster and is too practiced to be highly effective. We're also not sold on Knightley's rather mousy performance, nor do we like some of the unbelievable action in the third act. To us, a film that starts out with so much spycraft and backstory should end with just enough action without morphing into something it's not. Shadow Recruit didn't need these over-the-top sequences to win us over, and their inclusion slightly detracts from the final effect, but it's not enough to dissuade us from recommending this otherwise stellar production. As film score fans, we absolutely recommend Composer Patrick Doyle's use of Russian chants reminiscent of Red October, while giving Jack Ryan an actual theme.
All in all, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a smart, fast-paced action flick with plenty of substance that makes us love these characters. Branagh has crafted yet another franchise kickstarter, with Pine and Costner turning in performances that should garner people's attention for future installments. Great spy stories don't need to be head games to be enjoyable, but if you're expecting another Clear and Present Danger, you'll be sorely disappointed. And although it's a 2013 leftover, this one has a chance to shine on its own, now that all the Oscar candidates have already been released. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language, has a runtime of 105 minutes, and comes highly recommended.
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