Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Thank goodness for Kenneth Branagh. Without the weight of his acting and directing, the unfortunately-titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit would be completely flimsy and forgettable other than being the mildly entertaining and serviceable action thriller it turns out to be.
Branagh takes on double duty, bringing with him an eye for not just what should be punched up and emphasized, but what needs to be trimmed (this could be much longer and boring). The story, essentially, is one of origin, not unlike the slew of superhero ones we’ve seen over the last few years (Branagh also directed Thor in 2011). It follows the rise of Jack Ryan, the American spy hero created by Tom Clancy and realized on the big screen for the first time in 1990 by Alec Baldwin, then twice by Harrison Ford, and most recently by Ben Affleck in 2002.
Taking over the helm for of the first of who knows how many times, is Chris Pine, who seems to be slowly being molded into that of an action star. Even though his character is this noble, book-smart analyst, Pine brings both a bit of humanity and some much needed grittiness.
Following an accident while serving in Afghanistan, Ryan returns home where he rehabs and is recruited by the mysterious C.I.A. Agent Thomas Harper. It’s a character that, as portrayed by Kevin Costner, mostly comes off confusing and weird, as Costner does something where you’re not sure if it’s sincerity or parody, or if he knows whether his character is a good guy or bad.
He sends Ryan over to Moscow after discovering some cryptic funds being held on Wall Street by a powerful company, and rather quickly Ryan realizes that something is terribly wrong and the whole world is in trouble. Branagh assumes the role of Victor Cherevin, the wealthy Russian businessman who likes booze and woman, has a cold stare and a way with words. He too is slightly clichéd, listening to opera music and adoring fine art and finer dining, but again, Branagh has a sincerity and depth to this that never allows the film or its characters to devolve into frivolity.
Even though, it does come precariously close to being absurd, especially in an attempt to move along the plot and create conflict by offering up one or two stupid mistakes by its smart leads.
Initially alone in Moscow, Ryan’s previously unknown colleagues appear of nowhere appear (news team, assemble!), and suddenly a caper is underway to infiltrate Cherevin HQ complete with high tech gadgets, impeccably timing, and lots of diversion.
There is also the curious case of Keira Knightley, who unfortunately is forced to speak in an American accent (which does indeed come off as forced and even awkward). She is Ryan’s longtime girlfriend, and their back-and-forth is the biggest detractor (this is no Before Midnight; it’s also not couples therapy, Costner remarks in an eye-rolling moment).
Nevertheless, Branagh manages to craft a decent yet slow first half of a film that is riddled with recognizable tropes into something actually engaging later on. Everything is familiar in Jack Ryan, but Branagh’s deftness, especially in later scenes that remind of Mission: Impossible and James Bond, make this thriller watchable and painless. His character too is by far the most interesting.
The film is better than its bloated title, misleading and cheesy trailer, and in the end, better than it should be. Which, unfortunately in the end, still isn’t that great.