Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
When Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) was a Ph.D. student in London, he witnessed the 9/11 attacks on television. This inspired him to join the Marines two years later but a missile aimed at the helicopter he was riding sent him to the hospital for eight months. There, a man who works for the CIA, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), approaches him, clearly impressed by Jack’s background, and insists that he finishes his doctorate because upon doing so, an undercover financial analyst position will be waiting for him.
Criticisms that the picture comes off bland as a whole, especially since the protagonist is based on a character created by the highly respected novelist Tom Clancy, are not entirely unsound. While it is comprised of familiar elements from variety of espionage thrillers, it remains somewhat enjoyable nonetheless because it exercises restraint for the most part: It is not one of those techno-thrillers where the gadgets and booming soundtrack eclipse the thrills. Although computers are used, the material is old-fashioned in that the script tries to get us to care about Jack as a person first and a government agent second. Note, however, that the key word is “tries.”
Part of the problem when it comes to presenting Jack’s personal life is the casting. I was not convinced that Keira Knightley, Jack’s girlfriend for more or less a decade, exudes enough warmth for us to see why the title character is in love with her. While Knightley is convincing in playing a brilliant doctor, whenever she tries to be soft or accessible, the soft voice combined with a look of nagging desperation is too much of a performance. I did not see a character; I saw an actress trying to play a role that is not a good fit for her. Also, Pine and Knightley look very appealing on their own but when their characters are together, especially when expressing how much they care for one another, there is no sensuality or sexuality that radiates.
An avenue that should have been explored more is the relationship between Jack and the CIA specialist that gave the former a chance to become somebody. Scenes where Harper protects Jack from a distance might have held more weight if we felt as though Harper is preventing harm to someone he feels close to rather than just another agent who had to be protected because it is his job. Costner is a good actor and I wished that the material had given him more to do other than to look stern and patriotic.
I liked the Jack Ryan in the first half. The first major hand-to-hand combat takes place in a posh hotel and we are able to see quite clearly that our protagonist is not a fighter—at least not like Ethan Hunt in the “Mission: Impossible” series. Jack can fight physically because of his stint in the Marines but his inexperience shows. His intelligence is the first weapon of choice. The director, Kenneth Branagh, who also has a key role in the film, is wise to include shots of our hero’s face during the kinetic mano y mano because it shows him thinking what he might to do next to overcome his sizable opponent.
When the second half comes around, however, Jack Ryan becomes an action star. The car chase across Moscow and the motorcycle sequence in New York City do not work because what is front and center is not consistent with the man that we have come to know. One gets the impression that the writers, Adam Cozad and David Koepp, did not have enough inspiration to have concocted a more believable way to present the climax and resulting denouements.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” offers some good entertainment but it does not leave any sort of lasting impression. With so many movies of its type that are coming out and have come out, it is important to stand above most of them and show to the audience why this story is special and ultimately worth telling.