Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

A lackluster script weighs down an otherwise fun, if predictable, return for Jack Ryan in this well-made action travelogue.

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It’s only been 13 months, isn’t that a bit quick of a turnaround for Jack Reacher 2? Oh wait, I read the title wrong. My bad.

All joking aside, Chris Pine sets off on his journey to not purely be remembered as Captain Kirk by joining the ranks of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck in portraying Tom Clancy’s most famous character. Led mostly by Pine’s endless charisma and very capable directing by Kenneth Branagh, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit lays the foundation for a hopeful reboot of the long-dormant franchise.

Following an opening montage where we see Ryan join the Marines after 9/11 and become severely wounded in Afghanistan, we catch glimpses of his recovery and subsequent enlistment into the CIA as a financial analyst. But when a routine audit in Moscow turns into a near-death experience, Ryan is quickly pressed into service as an operative, working against the clock to foil a Russian terrorist attack aiming to cripple the American economy.

A very capable cast of supporting characters join Pine in the fray. Kevin Costner plays the battle-hardened CIA agent who watches and guides Ryan through his inaugural mission every step of the way. For Costner, it is the first of his (astonishingly) three starring roles for early 2014. Keira Knightley gives one of the best American accents I’ve heard in quite a while as Cathy, Jack’s doctor-turned-fiancée who must come to grips with the secrecy of her husband-to-be’s profession. Branagh himself steps up to play the Russian villain Cherevin, further indulging his penchant to play major characters in his own movies (see Hamlet, Othello, or any of the many Shakespeare adaptations he’s directed).

Despite this assembly of talent working quite well together, the mediocrity of the screenplay is sometimes unavoidably distracting. The trailer paints Shadow Recruit as a “questionable loyalties” thriller, and the poster even espouses the tagline “Trust No One.” Point of advice: don’t head into the movie preparing to guess which major characters will betray whom, because trust plays little to no role in the outcome of the plot. Rather, expect a very, very formulaic action picture that wants you to watch the fighting first, and ask questions about the story later.

Furthermore, a good handful of conversations fall very flat, most notably an awkward encounter between Pine, Knightley and Costner discussing the implications of Cathy learning Jack’s true job. “This is geopolitics, not couples therapy,” Costner quips in one of several cringe-worthy lines of dialogue from his character. Unlike the previous four Jack Ryan movies, Shadow Recruit is not explicitly based on any of Clancy’s novels, and boy does it show. At this point, you’re probably thinking to yourself that I’m in the process of giving this a negative review.

That being said, there are also plenty of things to admire. Shadow Recruit is first and foremost a movie that didn’t bore me for a second. Paced fairly well over its 105 minutes, the interplay between exposition, attempted diplomacy, and inevitable fisticuffs kept me at rapt attention the whole time. This is mainly a testament to the excellent direction of Branagh, who clearly utilized his discovery of how to make action movies with Thor. To be quite specific, almost every sequence in Moscow (pretty much the whole second act) is gorgeous, showing off the beauty of the city and lending itself to the most intriguing part of the movie.

The simultaneous scenes of a purposefully distracting dinner scene (aren’t those always the best scenes of movies?) and a well-organized and impeccably executed break-in made me remember the best portions of Ocean’s Eleven. Pine, Knightley, and Branagh’s acting chops are also on full display here. Pine does his best pretend drunk acting since the first Star Trek, Knightley plays the cool and antagonizing faux-seductress, and Branagh eats it all up in his surprisingly good Russian drawl.

In the end, a lackluster script weighs down an otherwise fun, if predictable, return for Jack Ryan in this well-made action travelogue. He’s no Jason Bourne, but Chris Pine proves that he has both the muscle and acting ability to be the face of two franchises. Despite the patently obvious flaws in the story, there’s plenty enough good material to work with in the future. Maybe the “Trust No One” idea will be explored a bit more in the sequel. It’s also nice to see Kenneth Branagh stepping further from his stage-0n-film stigma to truly have a blast making a movie. It’s unfortunate that The Wolf Of Wall Street‘s delayed release forced Paramount to push Shadow Recruit into the January graveyard, because it would have worked perfectly well as the Christmas Day action thriller it was intended to be. It’s an entertaining ride throughout, and brings just a bit of thrill to a so-far downtrodden January at the movies.

RYAN’s RATING: 2.5 Stars out of 4

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