Among his more interesting challenges in the past few years, actor Chris Pine has successfully filled the boots of William Shatner in the re-imagined Star Trek franchise. Can he now do the same as Jack Ryan, previously played by such heavyweights as Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, and Ben Affleck? The short answer is yes, though Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may not give you much to cheer about.
This update casts author Tom Clancy’s most famous character as a young, war-injured Marine, recruited by CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) to be an undercover financial analyst. Ryan (Pine) goes to work on Wall Street, tracking the money-laundering operations of suspected terrorists, passing his findings along to his contacts in darkened movie theatres, old-school style.
When Ryan uncovers evidence of a Russian plot to collapse the United States economy, he’s sent to Moscow to audit the books of shifty Russian businessman Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directs here). An attempt on Ryan’s life suddenly makes him an actionable agent, and soon Harper has him spying on Cherevin to prevent a bombing on US soil. The mission becomes even more complicated and dangerous when Ryan’s fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) arrives in Moscow, suspecting he’s having an affair.
Shadow Recruit writers Adam Cozad and David Koepp have tried to do their homework, delivering a script that hits many of the common beats of a Jack Ryan story – geo-political danger, techno-gadgets, and an evil plot requiring as much brains to solve as brawn. The problem is, they’ve left out the essentials of the main character himself. As written by Clancy and portrayed in previous films, Ryan has always been grounded as a thinker, usually operating as part of a larger team, and only reluctantly drawn into action scenarios. This story may get the reluctance right, but it casts him as the do-everything hero, right down to saving the girl and foiling the bomber. There’s more double-oh agent than recruit in this Ryan.
Branagh’s direction is adequate, but most of the moments here have been done before, and better. This is a movie that would have been fantastic in the 1990s, before we’d seen far too many films just like it. As an example, think of how many films you’ve seen in which the action climax features a terrorist, in pulled-down ball cap, driving a disguised van around a busy city block while the good guys look for him. We get the exact same thing here. Consider also the technology, something Clancy took great pride in with his stories. Ryan’s tools are too basic as 21st century spy gear goes – a remote device for hacking a computer hardly gets the pulse racing.
Pine carries the film well, and has the acting chops to be believable as both an action hero and a Ph.D. in Economics. Costner is suitably gruff and mentor-ly, even though he’s labouring in a role that’s yet another familiar movie cliché. Branagh’s bad guy is meant to be an unpredictable coiled spring, but he never un-coils, his mumbly Russian accent barely rising with the tension. Knightley, working a better American accent, makes a good partner for the adventure, but ends up pushed to the side like women do in this sort of movie.
So, while Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may not have Clancy spinning in his untimely grave, there’s not enough here to make you wonder why the effort to reboot his characters was considered worth it.
Tags: movie review