Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) – Review

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Written by David Koepp & Adam Cozad
Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kevin Branagh, Keira Knightley


“Any way you can get that ‘boy scout on a field-trip’ look off your face?”
Not a chance
“That’s what I like about you.”
And to be fair, the above quote makes a salient point about the whole shebang, if we’re honest. This reboot of a franchise that saw Harrison Ford become yet another big screen icon will be hoping to do for Captain Kirk what it did for Han Solo or Indy all those years ago.
Adaptable and versatile though Ford may be, there is not much chance of him getting away with portraying the character he made (cinematically) famous as this young up-and-coimg rookie, still allegedly wet behind the ears on what turns out to be his first operative mission as the newest, most smiley, recruit at the CIA.
And if you can put aside the casting choice of Pine as book-keeper/superhero, then you’re probably going to enjoy this quite alot, assuming you like action movies already, of course. The film lacks the tempo of a Star Trek movie, but covert thrillers are rarely as keen to be so flagrant. This is measured and tense throughout, and rarely gets itself muddled up with the likes of Bourne or Bond. This may well be because we, as an audience, would have trouble accepting Pine as quite the right choice for the role. He is a perfectly able actor, both handsome and charming, but this is a dark, dark world that we enter and honestly, that boy scout grin often makes you wonder if both actor and character have it what it takes to pull this dangerous mission off.
But as Costner states quite clearly, that is what we like about him and you’re tempted as the viewer to just go with it and see what happens. Giving Pine the benefit of the doubt here will be rewarding enough, if not totally convincing. You may be expecting (or even wanting) something a bit more ruthless, but Pine plays Ryan as we can be sure every chest-thumping patriot wants him to. He has a heart and soul, loves his girlfriend from whom he does not stray sexually and will do everything he can to protect his country from all potential dangers, both foreign and domestic. He’s a goddamn hero, in fact. He doesn’t wear garish coloured lycra under that shirt and tie, but if he did, you wouldn’t really be surprised.
Playing out a plot that is as dull as it is bewildering, involving the allegedly evil Russians trying to crash the American economy by blowing up Wall Street and then selling loads of currency (don’t ask me, I didn’t really understand it either) it gives the fresh-faced Ryan the opportunity to visit Russia covertly, working as an analyst for a company that he has been somehow magically inserted into and has, in a fantastically short space of time, been given the authority to represent, enjoying luxurious foreign hospitality. Alright, people may be trying to kill him, but still, he has very nice accommodation. All al ittle too convenient if you ask me, but there you go. For the sake of the story and getting this adventure’s running time down to under a week and a half, again, we’ll just go with it. The cracks are there, of course, but don’t let it spoil your fun.
Pine is just fine as Ryan, despite the very valid misgivings as highlighted above and he is supported well by Costner, Knightley and Branagh. Costner plays his…I want to call him ‘mentor’ (Jon Voight to Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, if you get me) with enough seriousness to dilute some of Pine’s obvious bravado. Knightley, as love interest, is handy at times, but really she is the fluff that anchors Ryan to reality. Dragged to Russia for the sake of the plot, she does get an opportunity to feature briefly, but her role is largely one of either confused, needy partner, or screaming, confused needy victim, depending on which bit of the film you’re watching. Branagh, the rule that proves Mark Strong right in ‘that’ Jaguar advert plays the evil head of the Russian corporation that plans to bring the evil USA to its knees, mostly by making Keira Knightley eat light bulbs, apparently. He also directs here, an act which can’t really be faulted. He doesn’t shine here either, but like his Russian accent, it’s good enough not to point and laugh at.
Not as full of action sequences as you might expect, there are more moments of clingy tension than there are bangs and crashes. Car chases are few and far between, but the final act resorts to a race against time that all action fans will be both familiar with and thankful for, given that the story really needed some derring-do by the time it arrived.
Never actually boring at any stage, this Ryan reboot was mostly satisfying throughout, disregarding the dubious casting choices. Never dawdling, the tension was palpable throughout and whilst never reaching the dramatic highs of some action thriller, it’s a perfectly acceptable waste of your time, if you like this type of thing. If only Chris Pine wasn’t quite so perfect, this could have been.



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