Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Adam Cozad and David Koepp
Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Colm Feore
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit traces the early roots of CIA hero Jack Ryan (Chris Pine). Before Ryan became an active CIA operative he was critically wounded in a military helicopter accident that left him paralyzed, but an attractive med student provides good motivation to recover. Eventually Ryan walks again and wins over the med student (Keira Knightley) who becomes his girlfriend. Ryan is recruited into the CIA by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) and starts crunching numbers for the CIA under the guise of working as a Wall Street analyst. When he discovers a possible plan by Russia to topple the US economy and execute a terrorist attack while the country is in disarray the real story begins.
Shadow Recruit has plenty of espionage, but this installment feels like Jack Ryan lite. It lacks the sense of urgency to make Recruit a memorable thriller. The complicated financial plot is a bit hard to follow, and the decision to throw Ryan’s girlfriend (who has no idea Ryan is in the CIA) into the mire is predictable.
What saves the film from true mediocrity is a reliable supporting cast. Pine’s somewhat bland persona actually works perfectly for depicting Ryan’s early years as a naïve young recruit. You can sense his character’s fear at being thrust headfirst into this international crisis. He flounders at first, but quickly rises to the occasion and evolves into the confident Jack Ryan we are more familiar with.
Kenneth Branagh (who also directs) plays the Russian who is instigating the terror plot, and he wisely plays the role in an understated manner. There’s a fine line between a believable villain and an over-the-top mustache twirling stereotype. Branagh knows just where that line is.
Knightley is fine as Ryan’s girlfriend, though at times she is relegated to eye candy. If you pay careful attention, you’ll see a quick cameo by Russian dancing legend Mikhail Baryshnikov. Costner is perfect as Ryan’s calm and collected handler. Nothing rattles him, as indicated when his panicked recruit tells him that he had to kill someone in his hotel room. Harper doesn’t blink an eye.
Shadow Recruit is well-paced, but the action sequences are unmemorable. Jack Ryan fans will probably be aware that this movie is the only one that was not based on a Tom Clancy book. Perhaps that is why the film doesn’t quite feel up to snuff. It’s a rather tepid introduction to a beloved action hero. — Shannon