With the character, Jack Ryan, celebrating 30 years this year since his first appearance in the 1984 novel The Hunt For Red October, written by the legendary and sadly departed best-selling author Tom Clancy, it is the right time to have a brand new Jack Ryan thriller on the screen. With four of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels previously turned into movies… The Hunt For Red October (1990), Patriot Games (1992), Clear And Present Danger (1994) and The Sum Of All Fears (2002)…, this time around there is a brand new story, an original script and sadly no input as producer from Tom Clancy as the great man passed away in 2013. The writers this time are Jurassic Park/Mission:Impossible/Spider-man screenwriter David Koepp and the virtually unknown Adam Cozad. British actor and filmmaking legend, Kenneth Branagh is on hand to not only direct, but to star also.
Starring the fantastic Chris Pine (Star Trek, Smokin’ Aces and the incredible Unstoppable) in the title role (Previously taken on by Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck), Shadow Recruit sees John Patrick Ryan, a former marine who is recruited by a CIA agent (Kevin Costner) to join the secret alliance as an analyst, thrown into a nightmare of terror as he discovers a plot by a cell of Russian terrorists, led by Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), to crash the US economy by crippling its financial structure and launching a bomb attack that would kill tens of thousands of people. Ryan, shaken after defending himself against an assassin, is forced to go undercover to destroy the cell and stop their attack, but also must protect his new fiance, Cathy (Played by Keira Knightley), who is also dragged into the mission.
Shadow Recruit is extremely well made, that has to be said first. Brilliantly directed by Branagh who knows how to handle a movie of this size, the movie moves swiftly through a series of fantastic chase sequences and Jason Bourne-esque fights between Ryan and many bad guys. Everything looks beautiful, from London, to the US, all the way to Russia, with amazing shots of each country filling every scene. Brilliantly lit and executed with style, the whole movie is just so good-looking.
Sadly, I must come to negatives, something I’ve never had with previous Jack Ryan adaptations, as a fan of the first four movies. The plot of Shadow Recruit is as far from unoriginal and uninspired as you can get. How many times have we seen movies with terrorists attacking the finances of the United States? And how many times have we seen a bunch of Russian terrorists try to blow up some of America in a bomb attack? Too many times. And this time, it’s all no different, it’s a paint-by-numbers “We are Russians, we hate America, let’s destroy it!” routine. But what makes it worse, absolutely no attempt to create a plausible and exciting villain, instead having Kenneth Branagh put on a Russian accent and walk around with a scowl. We know Branagh to be a great actor, but here, he just doesn’t care, he just seems to save his energy for directing, as he never delivers an interesting angle or scene for his character. And the majority of the cast sadly have the same to be said. Kevin Costner, known for his many exciting roles in countless smash-hit movies such as Robin Hood : Prince Of Thieves, The Bodyguard, The Untouchables, JFK and of course Man Of Steel, has nothing to do whatsoever here, instead just going through the motions of speaking his script clear and slow and disappearing for long chunks of the movie, never getting to participate in an action scene of his own, which is an injustice to a man of his high standard with many the pulse-pounding action movie hits behind him. As for Keira Knightley… Yawn. She plays herself. The character of Cathy Ryan couldn’t be any less interesting than she is here. Knightley can be pretty decent (And pretty) in some movies, but here, just like Brannagh and Costner, she goes through the motions of “Say the lines, cash the cheque”, again never getting anything exciting to do, which is strange for her also as she has played physical parts in movies before (Pirates Of The Caribbean anyone?). Everyone is just on autocue, all except Chris Pine himself, who thankfully more than makes up for everyone else, with a performance most worthy of the Jack Ryan character, he would’ve pleased Tom Clancy himself. Pine is a star, it’s as simple as that, i look at him and i get it, i get what Hollywood sees in him, he’s young and good-looking, tough, but has the emotional range to bring to anyone he plays (As proven in Star Trek Into Darkness, the scene with Spock dying is heartbreaking to watch), and he brings all of that goodness to Shadow Recruit, running, punching, driving and screaming his way through the impressive action sequences on offer (And some wonderful acting during Ryan’s first kill scene). Since i saw him in Unstoppable (One of the most exciting, spectacular and addictive movies I’ve ever seen), I knew he was a good ‘un. And as a long-time Jack Ryan fan, he made me very happy in the role.
Jack Ryan : Shadow Recruit, despite the lazy and underwhelming performances and character development of everyone aside from Pine, and the done-too-many-times plot, is still a brilliant watch, the action is glorious (The final 20 minutes is worth the price of a ticket alone), the score throughout the movie is exciting and adds much-needed layers to everything, and Chris Pine continues to be a most impressive action star, and a more than worthy addition to the line of Jack Ryan stars. Go see it.