Thursday, July 17, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

It has taken me a long time to catch up on Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, especially since I thought about seeing this film when it first came out in theaters. I feel like I'm a fan of this Tom Clancy-inspired series, partially because my parents used to watch Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger all the time when I was growing up. Surprisingly, I haven't watched a single movie with Jack Ryan in it from start to finish, so all of the positive feelings I have of the series were absorbed completely through osmosis. Anyone who's read my FlashBack Friday series of reviews where I revisited the Indiana Jones franchise (don't worry, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is coming) knows how big of a fan I am of Harrison Ford. Perhaps I had fond feelings toward those previous films because of his involvement as well, but it wasn't enough to get me out to theaters for this film. I finally saw this film on RedBox with modest expectations given the generally positive buzz I've heard since its release.

Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) was a student at the London School of Economics when everyone on campus swarmed around the TV to watch the devastating news of the 9/11 attacks on New York City. Following this world-changing event, Ryan enlists in the US Military, becoming a marine and sustaining a serious injury to his spine when his helicopter is shot down. After a lengthy recovery and courtship with his nurse Cathy (Keira Knightley), Ryan is approached by CIA official Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) about becoming an analyst with his division to monitor Wall Street transactions for any signs of terrorism. Ten years pass and Ryan is engaged to Cathy, though he still can't reveal his true occupation until they are married. When trillions of dollars within a Russian organization disappears, however, Ryan feels the need to investigate the situation in person to ensure national security. Cathy is initially suspicious of this sudden business trip, and things really start to heat up when Ryan's personal bodyguard attempts to murder him in his hotel room.

This movie's been out for a while, but I'm going to go ahead and stop my plot summary at that point to avoid spoiling it for people (like me) that haven't gotten around to seeing this one yet. When I first heard about this project I was actually a little skeptical. Chris Pine is a great actor and I've really enjoyed his work in the Star Trek series, but there comes a point where I feel like they should give some of these parts to actors who aren't already recognized for another iconic role. True, it worked for Harrison Ford, but he's the exception. Surprisingly, I actually thought Pine did a pretty good job with this role. It's different than a lot of people might be expecting, as he's not a Jason Bourne or James Bond type of agent who's used to field work and can take care of themselves in a fight. He's an analyst, more accustomed to running financial reports than engaging in covert operations. True, he does have experience with hand-to-hand combat after his time as a Marine, but we don't feel quite as confident that he's going to make it out of dangerous situations as we do with other "super spies". It adds an extra layer of tension that I wasn't expecting and makes him a little more relatable as well.

The story, as timely and interesting as it is, ends up being a little convoluted as the plot unfolds. That's actually another reason I didn't want to write an entire plot summary. There are lots of intricacies involved in these kinds of stories, and while I'm glad the screenwriters didn't oversimplify it, I wish they had found a way to streamline some of these scenarios to make it less complicated. Part of that may be attributed to the directing. Kenneth Branagh made a name for himself by adapting the plays of William Shakespeare to the screen, though he's probably most well-known now for his directing the first Thor film in 2011. This is his first foray into the action/thriller genre, and it kind of shows in his reliance on familiar tropes of other spy movies. There's nothing ground-breaking or particularly novel about this Tom Clancy adaptation, as the Bourne and Bond franchises have already beaten Jack Ryan to the punch.

Some of the acting from Kevin Costner could have been better, and I wasn't entirely convinced by Keira Knightley's American accent. But other than that, I was fairly impressed with the performances in this film. Pine does a credible job as the title character, but the standout was easily Branagh himself, portraying a villainous and calculating Russian tycoon. He's slimy, but there's also an inherent charm about him that makes him even more dangerous. Branagh acts in almost all of the films he directs, and he's always good in them. This particular part could have ruined the entire film if it wasn't done right, but he absolutely nails it.

Overall, this movie wasn't one of the best of the year, but it was far better than it should have been given its January release date. While it's a little too complicated at times and some of the acting is a little shotty, I think most people will enjoy watching this movie at home without having to pay theater ticket prices. This is a solid origin story for the character of Jack Ryan, and I hope they feel confident enough to give us future films with this cast. I give Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit three stars.

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language

**What did you think of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (if you can still remember that far back)? Do you think it warrants a sequel or do you want them to leave this character in the past? Leave me a comment and let me know!**