Tom Clancy fans may lament Hollywood’s insistence on making CIA analyst Jack Ryan into an action hero, but perhaps even more offensive
is the overwhelming mediocrity of his most recent outings.
Despite the promise of a fresh (and talented) new cast, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit fails to revitalize the series, and falls into the cracks of
forgettable espionage fare.
Chris Pine takes over the title role, but other than being mildly likeable, never gets a chance to develop his character, or even have much
The screenplay is largely lifeless, with little personality and a by-the-numbers political thriller plotline.
One of the film’s most memorable scenes is its moody opening that finds Ryan attending University in England when the World Trade Center
is attacked on 9/11. Unfortunately, other than the theme of terrorism, this sequence seems to have very little relevance to the film’s plot,
and the somber tone is never called back.
In fact, the film spends far more time focusing on the economic impact of a potential attack than it does in actually trying to prevent it. Only
in the final sequences is this acknowledged when Ryan transforms into Jason Bourne; running, driving and brawling to stop a bomb threat.
After an encounter early in the film, Ryan admits he’s out of his element. Now, one day later, he’s a superhero?
Ryan’s girlfriend ends up unwillingly involved in the operation. She surprises Ryan by showing up during a ‘business trip’ to Moscow,
where he investigates some suspicious financial dealings. There is a subplot involving the pair’s difficulty dealing with the secrets Ryan
Much like Pine, Keira Knightley seems wasted on this role that stereotypically portrays its female lead as an obsessive, insecure woman.
Despite all the focus the film puts on their relationship, it feels contrived throughout, and doesn’t contain a single genuine moment.
But even if the material isn’t there, at least Pine and Knightley give good efforts compared to Kevin Costner’s sleepy, monotone portrayal
of CIA handler Thomas Harper.
For a thriller, there are very few thrills in Shadow Recruit. Kenneth Branagh is the film’s villain, and although he turns in a pretty good
performance as the angry Russian businessman, Viktor Cherevin, his evil plot is confusingly jumbled in economic jargon.
Branagh also directed the film. The veteran filmmaker has taken a left turn in blockbuster territory with Ryan and his previous film, Thor.
Like Thor, Shadow Recruit lacks in visuals and action. Branagh’s style is sensible and safe, but shows little imagination.
Branagh’s best sequence is a Mission: Impossible-style plot to infiltrate Cherevin’s office. It has the suspense and excitement of a quality
thriller, and gives the film a much needed shot of adrenaline. Nothing before or after comes close to matching it.
I’m still confused about why the CIA appears to capture Cherevin at the conclusion of this sequence, yet he’s out and about, continuing his
evil activities in subsequent scenes. Did I miss something?
Of all the Jack Ryan films, it seems only the first got it right. Director John McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October still stands up as a great
thriller, with an appropriate portrayal of the character by Alec Baldwin.
As far as reboots go, Shadow Recruit is certainly not the worst we’ve seen, but it’s an underwhelming film with little inspiration. It doesn’t
help that when we see Pine, we can’t help but think of the far superior reimagining of Star Trek. Like the Ryan character, Trek took liberties
with the source material, but was executed with far greater energy and humor.
With Shadow Recruit, we get a film that won’t please either Clancy fans or general audiences. It isn’t a particularly bad film, but doesn’t
excel in any respect.
Even for fans of the character and genre, Shadow Recruit is not recommended.
(out of four)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Adam Cozad and David Koepp
Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner,
Kenneth Branagh, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Alec Utgoff
Music by: Patrick Doyle
Cinematography by: Haris Zambarloukos
Released: January 17, 2014; 105 Minutes