JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT review by Mark Walters – Chris Pine becomes Tom Clancy’s hero

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT review by Mark Walters – Chris Pine becomes Tom Clancy’s hero


The character of Jack Ryan, made famous by the late (and rather great) author Tom Clancy, has seen multiple incarnations through the years. It all started on the big screen with Alec Baldwin in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990), continuing with Harrison Ford in PATRIOT GAMES (1992) and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1994), and more recently with Ben Affleck in THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002). With more than a decade of Ryan being absent from cinemas, Paramount Pictures has brought the character back as a younger and tougher hero in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT.

Our story opens with a youthful-looking Ryan (Chris Pine) in college, rushing to a nearby television and watching with other students in horror as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 unfold. Cut to a few years later, and Jack is now a marine on a helicopter mission in Afghanistan. His chopper goes down, he winds up hospitalized, and eventually finds himself in physical therapy where he meets a lovely therapist named Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley). Ryan is approached in the hospital by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), a high-ranking military man in the CIA who sees potential in the fallen soldier. Harper makes Jack a Wall Street analyst with top secret connections and off the record jobs. Time passes, Ryan has moved in with Cathy, and hides the more secret aspects of his career from her. Cathy is starting to have trust issues with her beau, despite him wanting them to be married. An investigative mission in Russia is dropped in Jack’s lap, and soon our intrepid hero finds himself on a plane, with a promise to take his lover to Paris afterward. While in the USSR, Ryan catches up with Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), a high-ranking money man with nefarious intentions. Jack soon realizes this seemingly harmless mission has become a life and death battle to stop an act of economic terrorism that could leave the United States completely crippled.

It’s more than a little obvious that this incarnation of Jack Ryan has taken a few cues from the BOURNE movies, not just in storytelling but also in character traits. Previous takes on the role had Jack as more of an everyman caught up in difficult situations, whereas this story makes him more of a closeted bad-ass. One of the first big action scenes involves Chris Pine’s Ryan in a brutal fight to the death with a large man from Uganda. Though it’s later established the fight is his first career kill, the character is still very capable of action as events continue to unfold. Pine has proven himself to be a likable actor in the JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK films, but this is definitely his first chance to show himself as more of a tough guy action hero – his Captain Kirk never seems to win many fistfights, but his Jack Ryan is a capable brawler. Pine finds the right moments to show vulnerability, and he plays intensity rather convincingly. Keira Knightley does a fine job as Ryan’s love interest, effectively capturing an American accent, but lacking a convincing chemistry in the romantic scenes. There’s some rather obligatory bits of Cathy having to get unwittingly involved in the spy shenanigans, and while Knightley is most endearing in these moments, they also hold a level of obvious convenience for the audience… not to mention we’ve seen this sort of thing done better with Jamie Lee Curtis in TRUE LIES.

Kevin Costner plays his authoritative role with subtlety, never really shining but never phoning it in either. Costner is seeing a bit of renaissance in theaters lately, and while this won’t likely hurt him it will hardly be a more memorable entry for the seasoned actor. Perhaps the strongest performance comes from Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film. We’re not sure if being in the director chair allowed Branagh to make his character of Cherevin the most interesting of the piece, but that’s how things play out. Cherevin is suffering from cirrhosis and his days are numbered, but he’s clearly a patriot for his country who believes his intentions are noble and just, no matter how devastating they would be if carried out. His individual back and forth banter with Pine and Knightley makes up the film’s best moments, to the point of where the scenes he’s absent from feel somewhat stagnant.

While Branagh (as a director) excels in creating tension and keeping things engaging, he lacks effectiveness with the action scenes, particularly fist fights which are more often than not overly shaky and confusing… again, we can probably thank influence of the BOURNE films for this. Overall JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is a fairly competent spy thriller, and could potentially be the start of a new franchise for the classic hero. My biggest concern going in was hoping the filmmakers didn’t tarnish the memory of the recently-deceased Clancy, and while the end result isn’t anything terribly spectacular, it’s far from being a disaster either. They sometimes say the best franchises have to start softly and build up to greatness, so I’m anxious to see where things might go from here.

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT hits theaters on January 17, 2014.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.