The very first Jack Ryan movie I saw was The Hunt For Red October. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would also be the best Jack Ryan movie. If Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is looked at in a vacuum, it is a fairly serviceable action thriller. If one takes the movie on account of what came before, Shadow Recruit starts to loose much of it’s patina. This is not even a good film. It’s also worth mentioning I have liked previous Kenneth Branagh movies, but this is surely an exception.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has the titular character, played by Chris Pine, hopping all over the world in an attempt to foil a rather large and complicated plot by the Russians. Naturally, the Russians look to disavow any of this is if the bad guy ever gets caught. Being an origin story, Shadow Recruit shows Jack Ryan in his formative years. We see Jack watching 9/11 in university. We see Ryan sign up for a risky tour in Afghanistan. We see the forming of a superhero.
Branagh plays the bad guy Viktor Cherevin with what feels like a believable Russian accent. It was also a nice touch on his part to ease us into him speaking Russian. Cherevin runs a company in Russia that has a logo that looks quite similar to Enron. I wonder if this was a something to make us think of the company, or just a simple design choice and nothing more? Cherevin’s company employs some state of the art security measures, naturally, easily foiled by Ryan et al.
Keira Knightley plays Ryan’s girlfriend in the movie. The trailers hint at her having a more important role to play here, but the movie shows little signs of that being the case. As such, she doesn’t do much more than attempt chemistry with the leading men, and succeeds, for the most part. Trailers I have seen for Shadow Recruit make this movie also make Cherevin look much more evil than he did in the movie.
I like Kevin Costner. I really wished he had more to do here. His and Pine’s chemistry was there and, again, I kept thinking there was more story to tell. Coster should have had more to do. Could there be a better, grittier, and more interesting cut of this movie out there somewhere? This definitely has the feeling of a movie pared down to make a PG-13 rating possible.
The best scene in the movie happened so early that many will probably forget it by the time credits roll. Nonso Anozie, who currently plays Renfield on TV’s Dracula has nice interplay with Pine as a driver and then a wonderful fight reminiscent of Craig’s Casino Royale bathroom fight. The scene is tough to watch because the sense of Ryan’s unknown capacity is real in this moment. Sadly , the movie gets worse from here.
In fact, you won’t get through much of Shadow Recruit without thinking the movie is lifting some other, much better movie directly. You’ll see Jack Ryan running like (every single) Tom Cruise movie. You’ll see a plot points that remind you of Die Hard. You’ll see car chases that might belong in Beverly Hills Cop. You’ll see bad guys with horrible shooting skills. You’ll certainly think your watching a James Bond movie.
Naturally, there have to be some questions about the nature of American exceptionalism and the portrayal of Jack Ryan as some sort of superhuman. Ryan has always seemed like the U.S. equivalent of James Bond. In the case of the aforementioned James Bond, Craig brought to life a hero that was flawed and made mistakes. This attempt at the same feels more vapid, and perhaps that’s because the struggles Ryan endures aren’t given as much emotional power. Ryan clearly has an ambivalence to helicopters, but when he returns to flight again – there’s simply an unemotional throwaway comment about this. The moment seems like a lost opportunity to give Ryan flaws that make us root for him.
The representation of technology was, thankfully, terse. Movies too often get it so wrong as to be distracting. I found the scene on a plane to be a fascinating reference to the current NSA revelations. It appears that Ryan’s adept ability at finding the bad guy was aided by numerous cell phone traces, wire taps and a system that eerily imitates what one might think kins people together through relationships.
Add to this, several plot points that are given little-to-no attention. Why do we care if Cherevin has cirrhosis? Why does Harper leave the double-doors wide open at the hospital, only to get the carpet soaking wet? Can you survive a blast that appears to be mere feet away? Where did the dog go? Surely many of these questions are better left not asked. Shadow Recruit is a movie best enjoyed with your brain off.