Review by Alec R. Lee
Jack Ryan? He’s got two first names!
The first movie of 2014 that doesn’t officially suck (according to Rotten Tomatoes, at least) has arrived and is proof that the month of January isn’t always the dumping ground for bad movies. I’m probably stretching it as this movie was originally slated for a December 2013 release but got pushed back (most likely due to The Wolf of Wall Street) and ended up here. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a movie based off of the Tom Clancy character, a character who has appeared in films such as The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears. Unlike the previous movies, this one is not based off any book in the “Ryanverse” but is more or less an attempt to modernize the character for a post-Cold War world. Shakespeare and Thor director Kenneth Branagh takes over the mantle from Philip Noyce and John McTiernan for this round. Fans of the books will appreciate the fact that a significant event from Ryan’s past is shown on screen in the first few minutes and it’s a nice way to remind people that this is firmly rooted in the universe that Tom Clancy created (it actually has shades of Debt of Honor in the story, surprisingly). It’s an international spy movie that borrows heavily from the Bourne movies, and the end result is a tad predictable, it’s still solidly told enough for it to be entertaining.
Jack Ryan is a CIA analyst assigned to Wall Street to monitor terrorist financial activity. When Ryan detects an anomaly regarding suspect financial transactions, he journeys to Moscow to unofficially audit the man responsible. While in Moscow, Ryan has to endure attempts on his life, followed by the usual spy routines of sneaking around forbidden areas, hacking computers, and keeping all of this a secret from his girlfriend. Wait, what? Yeah, Ryan is romantically involved with an eye doctor, Cathy (which shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve read any of the books), and she gets suspicious of Ryan’s rather stiff behavior regarding his official job. This eventually gets to the point where he has to tell her that all along, he was a spy, and she very quickly accepts this fact (which wasn’t as cliche as I thought it would be). You have fistfights, car chases, explosions, the whole package. This movie has it all for a fan of spy thrillers and espionage, and of course, the Tom Clancy fan.
Jack Ryan is played by the newest Captain Kirk, Chris Pine. I like Chris Pine as an actor, he exudes a kind of roguish charm while still being completely serious. Which is why Pine’s Jack Ryan character has more in common with Harrison Ford’s incarnation, despite the age differences. Pine handles the character in a believable manner, an example would be the shock he portrays when he kills someone for the first time. He is noticeably shocked and doesn’t calm down from this for at least five minutes (about a couple hours in movie time). Keira Knightley plays Ryan’s girlfriend, Cathy, and I’m going to be brutally honest here, her acting isn’t that good. Despite being eye candy for the men in the theater, she is very stiff and her British accent threatens to show several times during the film. Her character, thankfully, is written well enough to compensate for the acting vacuum. Jack and Cathy have a very realistic relationship and she is quite understanding when Ryan has to admit to her that he works for the CIA (she hugs him, which is a step up from True Lies, when the main character’s wife slugs him in the face after he admits that he was a spy all throughout their marriage). Kevin Costner plays Ryan’s handler, and he gives a surprisingly decent performance here. I guess Costner works well at portraying understated, direct, military men. Kenneth Branagh, aside from directing, performs here as the main bad guy, Viktor Cherevin. Branagh, probably well known for portraying Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter series, does a 180 with the attitude with a performance that does not show any emotion whatsoever (or gums….for that matter). Every line uttered out of his mouth is through tightly clenched lips and it looks so corny. I don’t know if he knew how cartoonish he looked when performing but come on, man! You directed Hamlet, you can be a little more over the top!
So, if you’ve seen all of the 2013 films released over the break and are still hungry for fresh meat, then I would recommend this film. Yes, it may seem like a Bourne knockoff at times, but when you’re being entertained, it doesn’t really matter that much. The lead’s acting is solid, the plot is direct (though a little rushed at times), the action is tight, it does a good job. I am going to knock points off for originality but as a film that attempts to bring Jack Ryan into the modern age, it succeeds and I look forward to any future installments (just no more tight-lipping, Branagh.)
Final Score: 70/100