Here’s my review of JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014) which went up earlier this week at cinemaknifefight.com. Remember, if you like to read about movies, check out cinemaknifefight.com where you’ll find new movie content posted every day.
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MOVIE REVIEW: JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)
By Michael Arruda
Let’s get all the baggage out of the way first.
With the exception of THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990), a film that starred Alec Baldwin as Tom Clancy’s CIA operative Jack Ryan, I haven’t really liked any of the other “Jack Ryan” movies. I’m not a big fan of PATRIOT GAMES (1992) or CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1994), the two films in which Harrison Ford played Jack Ryan, nor was I all that thrilled by THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002) which starred Ben Affleck as Ryan.
That being said, I do like Chris Pine, as well as Kenneth Branagh who both directed and played the Russian villain in this one, and so I was actually looking forward to seeing this movie, even if I didn’t have the highest hopes for it.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014) is a “re-imagining” of Clancy’s character as this Jack Ryan comes of age during the events of September 11, 2001. The film opens with Ryan (Chris Pine) at college seeing the events of September 11 unfold on the television screen, and it’s shortly after this that he enlists in the military to serve his country.
He soon finds himself in Afghanistan where his helicopter is shot down and he suffers a devastating back injury. Lucky for him, he’s nursed back to health by a beautiful young intern named Cathy (Keira Knightley), who he eventually becomes engaged to. He’s also noticed by a CIA operative Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) who was so impressed by Ryan’s brilliant dissertation on U.S./Russian relations that he practically recruits Ryan on the spot.
The action jumps to present day with Ryan now working for the CIA. Of course, no one knows this other than Harper, and Ryan’s cover is that he works on Wall Street keeping an eye out for international financial abnormalities that might lead to the next big terrorist attack. He finally finds one, as he spots suspicious financial behavior by a powerful Russian businessman named Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh).
Since Jack Ryan is the hero of this movie, he’s the one sent to Russia to investigate Cherevin, since supposedly there’s no one else in the CIA better suited for this mission than Ryan. Really?
Once in Moscow, Ryan finds out firsthand that Cherevin is indeed a dangerous man, as an attempt is made on his life almost immediately. Undeterred, Ryan uncovers evidence of a major terrorist plot against the United States, and of course, it’s up to him to stop it.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT features some decent acting performances by its main players, but its storyline of a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack borders on the ridiculous. It’s also not the easiest story to get excited about, as the bulk of Ryan’s investigation revolves around numbers and financial information that simply isn’t all that compelling. It’s hard to get all that riled up about money being manipulated online.
I did enjoy Chris Pine as Jack Ryan, as he effortlessly falls into the role and makes Ryan an easy guy to like. Pine’s energetic performance is the best part of the movie. He makes Ryan a believable hero.
Kevin Costner runs hot and cold as CIA operative Thomas Harper. There are times when he comes off as smooth and covert, and other times when he’s trite and sappy. Keira Knightly is okay as Ryan’s fianceé Cathy, and while she gets to be more than just a token female victim for Ryan to save, her cool levelheadedness in the face of mortal danger comes off as unrealistic and phony.
Kenneth Branagh sports a fake Russian accent as the main baddie Viktor Cherevin and in spite of looking menacing and angry throughout proves to be a rather ineffective villain. Jack Ryan outwits him and outplays him with ease, and for a seasoned mogul like Cherevin to be undone by a young whippersnapper like Jack Ryan on his first job in the field was somewhat of a disappointment.
Alec Utgoff is effective as a young Russian agent who is the most formidable opponent Ryan faces in the movie, but he’s not in the film enough to make that much of an impact. There’s also a brief appearance by Nonso Anozie who plays Renfield on TV’s DRACULA, and he gets to enjoy a memorable fight scene.
The film gets off to a slow start, especially the pre-credits sequence which seems to go on forever. The credits don’t start until well after the ten minute mark. Things pick up once Ryan gets to Moscow. There are a few neat fight sequences and chase scenes, but none that I would consider intense. Director Kenneth Branagh has made a very polished looking film, but it could certainly have benefitted from more intensity.
The script by Adam Cozad and David Koepp, based on characters created by Tom Clancy, did not wow me. For starters, the actual story— a Russian plot to use a terrorist attack to destroy the U.S. economy— did nothing for me. It seemed farfetched, a roundabout way to go about bringing down the U.S. economy. It’s also not an easy story to like. When Jack Ryan starts talking numbers to his boss Thomas Harper, giving him the details of what Viktor Cherevin is up to, I wanted to fall asleep.
There were also some forced plot points that I simply didn’t buy. For example, young Jack Ryan is the best guy the CIA has to send to Russia? Really? He has no experience in the field! You’re telling me there’s no one else better suited for the job? I found that hard to believe, and it seemed very forced, just an excuse to build a story around Jack Ryan. There’s a running gag in the movie where Ryan will say something like “have your guy go here,” or have him do that, and then he reads his boss’ face and says, “I’m the guy, right?” After seeing this movie, you’d think the CIA has nobody worth their salt working for them.
There’s also a ridiculous scene over dinner with Ryan, his fiancée Cathy, and Viktor Cherevin. First off, the set-up is incredulous. Cherevin invites Ryan to dinner and tells him to bring Cathy, and Ryan wants no part of this because it’s too dangerous, but his boss Harper insists Cathy go with him so that Cherevin’s not suspicious, even making her a part of the ruse their pulling with Cherevin, going so far as giving her a role at the dinner table, even though she has no experience and is a civilian. And of course, she pulls it off brilliantly. Really? She’s a doctor not a secret agent! I just found this difficult to swallow.
Early on, a big deal is made of Ryan’s back injury. Will he ever walk again, Harper asks? Yet later, Ryan’s running around fighting off assassins like he’s Jason Bourne. So much for consistency.
The ending is also rushed, as Ryan and the CIA’s efforts to thwart a terrorist attack in New York City happen so quickly it is simply not as suspenseful as it could have been. After watching an entire film about an unnamed threat, once it’s exposed, the race to stop it is anticlimactic because it’s a sprint not a marathon.
These faults come as a big surprise because screenwriter David Koepp has some pretty impressive credits, including having written the screenplays to JURASSIC PARK (1993), Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN (2002), and Steven Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005), three films I liked a lot. But he also penned SECRET WINDOW (2004) and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008), two films I did not like very much.
Well, my favorite Jack Ryan movie remains THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, and I’ll let you in on a little secret. I liked that one so much not because of Jack Ryan, but because of the presence of Sean Connery as the renegade Soviet submarine commander Marko Ramius.
That being said, I was certainly impressed by Chris Pine as Jack Ryan in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, and should they make any more of these movies, I could easily see him returning to the role. Let’s just hope it has a better story.
I give JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT two and a half knives.