Editor’s Notes: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is now open in wide release. For an additional perspective, read Larry’s review (65/100).
I’m a sucker for a good spy thriller/action movie. When everything clicks, they are just good, rousing entertainment. In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit everything clicks. The stars are good, the action is well staged, the characters are more or less believable and the plot does what it needs to even if there are a number of conveniences throughout.
The story follows a young Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) that is a new version of the character we’ve seen before, previously played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October (1990), Harrison Ford in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994) and Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears (2002). Here, Ryan is pursuing a PhD in economics in London when the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 occur. He leaves school and enlists in the Marines. He requests combat duty instead of a desk job, all the while filing reports that he thinks will be helpful. He is injured in a helicopter crash that leaves him nearly paralyzed from the waist down.
The stars are good, the action is well staged, the characters are more or less believable and the plot does what it needs to even if there are a number of conveniences throughout.
During his recovery at Walter Reed, two things happen to him that change his life. He falls in love with his attending physician, a med student named Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) and he is scouted by and recruited for the CIA by Commander Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Ryan is to go undercover in Wall Street firms to try and track down money that is funding terrorists. He’s an analyst, not a field agent, so he passes his findings on to the CIA through a drop person and that’s it. Until he stumbles upon some inaccessible files of a Russian firm that is business partners with the firm he’s investigating.
When he figures out that these large money holdings are in US Treasury bonds and could destroy the world economy if they are sold off, he alerts his superiors and figures someone else will take the data in his reports and take care of it. He’s then told that no one else understands his reports (which makes he and you wonder why he’s even writing them) and he should get to Moscow because he’s the one they want to investigate personally.
Once there, he thwarts an assassination attempt and is made an active agent by Harper. He goes to audit the company in the hopes of finding what everything is tied to, where he meets the head of the company, one Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). Cathy, who thinks he’s having an affair, flies to Russia to be with/catch Jack. He has to confess that he’s in the CIA and she has to come to dinner with him since Viktor knows she’s there and wants to meet her (he is apparently a skirt chaser, “The married the better” Ryan is told). They put on a show to make Cherevin believe they aren’t particularly happy together and Ryan ‘takes a walk’. This is all so he can infiltrate the office and find out when this whole economic terrorism plot is going to happen.
As much to its credit as to its detriment, the film does nothing to subvert the standard spy thriller/action film conventions. Long set-up of information gathering at the beginning, long series of gunshots, car crashes and explosions at the end.
From there on out, the action takes over much of the procedure as is to be expected in a film like this. Once the plot is uncovered, it’s a race to foil it. As much to its credit as to its detriment, the film does nothing to subvert the standard spy thriller/action film conventions. Long set-up of information gathering at the beginning, long series of gunshots, car crashes and explosions at the end. This isn’t really surprising considering it was co-written by functional (and occasionally extremely good) screenwriter David Koepp whose positive credits include Jurassic Park (1993), Spider-Man (2002), Panic Room (2002) and Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005) and negative credits include Mission: Impossible (1996), The Trigger Effect (1996) (which he also directed), Secret Window (2004) (also directed), Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), and to top it all off Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). With all of those credits, it’s not surprising that this film is formulaic and uninspired. Koepp, along with first time screenwriter Adam Cozad, created a script that has much more believable supporting characters than the main. Their Jack Ryan is believable up until the point he starts calling the shots while trying to track down a terrorist that will attack so there is a reason for Cherevin to dump the US bonds and create the 2nd Great Depression. At this point, Ryan appears to have been a field agent for years, coming up with ways to locate people that the seasoned vets aren’t even thinking of, including Harper. Everyone takes a back seat to Ryan while he figures out the whole thing. Well, almost the whole thing. Cathy figures out the last part for them. What is fascinating is that even while this is going on and in the back of your brain you think “Really, he’s that good?” you remain riveted.
That is in no small part to Branagh, who also directed the film. His direction is sure handed and never dull. I also appreciate that he filmed the action sequences in a way that never got muddy or incomprehensible, as action sequences have become post-Greengrass Bourne Supremacy (2004) world of action films. It’s not surprising that the direction is well mounted, considering Branagh is the only person to make a non-stagy (for the most part) unabridged film of Hamlet (1996) and make it exciting to watch. He is a director best known for his Shakespeare adaptations; though of the 16 films he’s directed only six have been Shakespeare adaptions. His other films run the gamut of genres, and each of them have their virtues even if they are not all good films. He has a way of making the convoluted clear, which was of great use to him here. While the plot of the money and the Treasury Bonds were the MacGuffin of the film, he uses it for all its worth to build to a good climax and while the end of the film is a bit flat, I blame that on Koepp and Cozad more than Branagh.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may not be as good as the first three Jack Ryan outings from the early 90s, but it is a lot better than the last reboot The Sum of All Fears (2002). It brings the Ryan character into modern times, like Casino Royale (2006) did for James Bond, which only stands to reason because Jack Ryan has become the American equivalent to Bond in some respects. While the film isn’t earth-shattering or mind-blowing, it is entertaining enough to not bore during its infrequent lulls and exciting enough to prevent you from thinking about the plot contrivances while it’s playing and should serve as a good jumping off point for a franchise. Even if that doesn’t materialize, it’s a solid film by itself and while it’s not particularly memorable, it is fun.
[notification type=”star”]75/100 ~ GOOD. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may not be as good as the first three Jack Ryan outings from the early 90s, but it is a lot better than the last reboot The Sum of All Fears (2002).[/notification]