Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Ten years on from an ill-fated mission in Afghanistan, following which he was recruited by the CIA, one-time economics student Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is now working undercover on Wall Street. Tasked with looking for suspicious transactions that might be indicative of terrorist activities, he happens across a series of inaccessible Russian accounts. When he travels to Moscow to conduct a routine audit, however, he finds himself the target of an assassination attempt. Now operational, he must help mentor Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) gain access to Viktor Cheverin’s (Kenneth Branagh) offices in order to prevent financial disaster. That and convince his wife (Keira Knightley) that he’s not having an affair.

Jack Ryan has had many faces. The character, created by the late author Tom Clancy, has so far been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck across four largely unconnected movies. For his fifth cinematic outing, a reboot presumably intended to finally kick-start an official franchise, Chris Pine — on temporary leave from the USS Enterprise — has been recruited as what must be the CIA’s most hands-on analyst. Subtitled Shadow Recruit, the film surely couldn’t be any worse than its name.

While not bad, however, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit isn’t particularly good either. Its issues are clear from the off, with director Kenneth Branagh attempting to retread largely redundant backstory in two hopelessly inept preludes. The film opens with Ryan waking on a London School Of Economics bench, before walking silently to a television screen showing the 9/11 attacks in real-time, before cutting to a helicopter in Afghanistan where he saves too colleagues off-screen. These scenes are, one imagines, supposed to show both Ryan’s intelligence and bravery, but in the end do neither.

Despite establishing Ryan’s history in London, Branagh then introduces an American-accented Keira Knightly as Pine’s love interest. As such, much of the first act is spent scratching your head at the curious decisions made by the film’s director. Most bizarre of all is perhaps the decision to cast himself as the film’s Russian baddie, Cheverin, despite the fact that he neither looks or sounds particularly Russian. As such, the film never feels like a cohesive whole, but instead continues to distract as an ill-fitting ensemble act out an incredibly uneven plot. Terrorism! Wall Street! Russia! As a subtitle Shadow Recruit is awkward but accurate — it’s often difficult to place Ryan, geographically or temporally.

That said, there are elements that work, almost despite themselves. Pine and Knightley have very little in the way of chemistry, but their characters do somehow complement one another. Referred to simply as “Doctor”, they both turn around, and this is emblematic of an equality that runs through the movie. Pine is perfectly fine as Ryan throughout, but only ever really distinguishes him from the Ethan Hunts, Jason Bournes and Jack Reachers of this world in the immediate wake of a killing, when — unusually — he takes a moment to compose himself. Elsewhere it’s business as usual, only Ryan is fighting henchmen where 007 would be fighting supervillains. That said, though he may lack sharks and lasers Branagh does know his way around a lightbulb.

Although it seems content to play little-league espionage using small-town methods, there is enough going on in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit to make it worth a watch, if only to redeem Kevin Costner following his poor turn in Man Of Steel. Individually, many of the elements prove surprisingly effective, whether it’s a bathroom brawl or a dinner table diagnosis, but unfortunately Branagh can’t quite pull it all together. At least, not with the same success he had with Thor.

This review was originally published on my personal blog, http://popcornaddiction.com/.

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