Movie Review: “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”

Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Costner
Kenneth Branagh

Chris Pine is both James T. Kirk and Jack Ryan. Has anyone ever anchored two franchises that big at the same time? That’s like being both James Bond and Luke Skywalker, and is it wrong to suspect that Paramount, which owns both the “Star Trek” and Jack Ryan franchises, might make him the next Indiana Jones? They have to know that Indy heir apparent Shia LaBeouf is box office poison at the moment, not to mention “retired.” We’d speculate about Pine becoming the new Ethan Hunt, but Tom Cruise would have him killed well before that ever happened.

All kidding aside, Pine is a good choice for Ryan. He’s handsome but not too handsome – which is helpful when you’re CIA and need to blend in – and he is believable as an action hero, an element which is ramped up considerably in the reboot “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” This is without question the most action-packed Jack Ryan movie to date. It’s a bit formulaic, but that seems acceptable if it means that the end result is less dull than “Patriot Games.” From this vantage point, that’s a win.

Inspired by the terrorist attack on 9/11, a young John Ryan (Pine) enlists in the Marines to serve his country. Two years later, on an assignment in Afghanistan, Jack’s helicopter is attacked, and during his lengthy recovery, he attracts the attention of Navy Commander William Harper (Kevin Costner), also a CIA operative. Jack is brought in to the group as an analyst, putting his skills to work on Wall Street. Fast forward 10 years, where Jack works for a large firm and discovers that his employer has lost access to billions of dollars in accounts that are owned by a large Russian client. Jack gets approval to travel to Moscow and audit the now-missing accounts. Jack suspects something isn’t right, and his suspicion is confirmed from the moment he arrives, and an attempt is made on his life. Run, Marine, run!

Yep, Jack Ryan gets an origin story, but it’s thankfully brief. Jack enlists, Jack meets cute med student in rehab (Keira Knightley), Jack balances secret life and regular life poorly, Jack goes into the field for the first time, shit gets real. From there, “Jack Ryan” goes full-on “Mission: Impossible,” which makes sense considering that the script was co-written by David Koepp, who wrote Cruise’s first “M:I.” At times, this leads to a different set of problems – yes, this is fresh for a Jack Ryan movie, but it pales in comparison to the best “M:I” moments – but Kenneth Branagh, working double duty as director and villain (he is the boss of the Russian firm), keeps things moving at a quick clip in the hopes that the audience will continue to compare this to the other Jack Ryan movies rather than the “Mission: Impossible” movies. To his credit, it works, at least as long as the movie’s playing. After that, well, reality sets in.

Pine is a curious case. He has his charms, but he hasn’t shown a lot of emotional depth as an actor. That doesn’t mean that he’ll never develop that aspect of his game, but he’d be wise to look into it before he loses primo franchise roles like this to more versatile actors. Branagh, a.k.a. The Male Meryl, seems like a more than plausible Russian to these untrained American ears, but the standout performance here is by Costner, underplaying his role in the best way imaginable. He never raises his voice, even when he’s shooting ghouls that are about to end Jack’s life. (“Duck.” *blam*) Everyone loves Keira Knightley, but to be honest, she has yet to impress me. She’s perfectly fine, but never exceptional, and while she has a nice tête-à-tête scene with Branagh, it’s not revelatory.

Tom Clancy loved the small stuff; his Jack Ryan novels were defined by it, and it would be that one tiny detail that he tucked away in Chapter 4 that would lead to the downfall of the bad guy and reward the studious reader for paying attention and connecting the dots. It was this attention to detail, however, that caused most of the Jack Ryan movies to be somewhat lifeless (we still stand by “The Hunt for Red October,” though). Odds are, Clancy would not have approved of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” My wife has another take: “This is the first Jack Ryan movie that didn’t put me to sleep.” She’s hoping the studio will use that for the Blu-ray cover.