Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightly, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh
Release Date (US): 17th January, 2014
Company: Paramount Pictures
“You’re not just an analyst anymore, you’re operational now.” – William Harper
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit sees Chris Pine (Star Trek) appear in the titular role first made famous on the big screen by Alec Baldwin in 1990. Now the fifth film to star Tom Clancy’s ‘American James Bond’ on the back of a series that never quite gathered enough momentum. Kenneth Branagh (Thor) is in the director’s chair for this reboot, which follows Ryan as a young CIA analyst thrust into his first field mission – to stop a Russian terrorist from crashing the US Economy.
The main issue with Shadow Recruit is that it doesn’t offer anything new to the action-movie genre, but rather feels like a mismatch of elements from several other franchise – including Skyfall and the Bourne trilogy. The film struggles to create an interesting or unique enough storyline. While the inclusion of geopolitics is fresh enough, the narrative is fairly routine, and dragged down by a dull script from David Koepp (Premium Rush) and Adam Kozad, which fails to replicate the cerebral nature of Clancy’s work.
This is a shame, as Jack Ryan is notable for being a different type of hero to the more physical types like Bond and Bourne – often relying on mind over matter in tight spots. Though the movie attempts to highlight this on Jack’s first mission, the novelty is soon lost by the second half of the film, as Ryan quickly blends into every other generic action hero in the last decade.
“Partnerships are delicate, Mr. Ryan. Sometimes they end violently.” – Viktor Cherevin
Pine offers a youthful injection of intelligence and naivety to the character of Jack Ryan, but suffers, at times, for being too serious. Part of his charming appeal as the lead in Star Trek was his playful nature, which is missing here. Keira Knightly is solid if unspectacular in a thankless role as
love interest damsel-in-distress Cathy Ryan, though the effort of producing a genuine American accent looks to be causing her face great pain. Branagh’s Russian villain, Cherevin, is as clichéd as they come, but at least he’s having a blast.
Elsewhere, a resurgent Kevin Costner puts in another underrated turn as Ryan’s handler, William Harper. His dry and often blunt CIA persona is a surprisingly likeable foil to the inexperienced hero, despite his limited screen time. Last year, there was talk of a spin-off focusing on his character – although following the film’s modest box office return, one would imagine this is now a long shot.
Direction & Tone
Branagh surprised and impressed with his 2011’s blockbuster hit, Thor. He was able to perfectly balance Shakespearean drama, comic book heroism and shirtless Chris Hemsworth scenes in a movie he seemed almost destined to make. While it’s exciting to see him further diversify his projects, this feels like one step too far for the much-loved thespian. While the small character moments are among the strongest parts of the film, the action pieces (although adequate) often feel over-exaggerated and poorly timed.
- Watching the coverage of the 9/11 attacks, an LSE student turns to Jack and says: “You’re American, aren’t you… Sorry mate.” We already have a contender for dumbest movie quote of the year.
- I really thought I’d enjoy this movie more, if only for Chris Pine as the lead. After Star Trek, he never really pushed on towards true stardom as expected.
- Call me corny, but I personally enjoyed the early therapy scenes between Jack and Cathy. The jump forward in time to bickering couple had me less interested.
- Kevin Costner has so far had a year to remember. After a stand-out performance in Man Of Steel last year, he has 3 Days To Kill & Draft Day to come in 2014.
- Next on Branagh’s schedule is a live-action Cinderella adaptation – hopefully more in the director’s ballpark. On his day, he can be fantastic.
On the whole, Shadow Recruit is a fairly average movie, full of solid performances and average action pieces, but never really thrills like it intends. A safe but unspectacular storyline is what turns this attempted franchise kick-starter into a forgettable action flick.