Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh and Keira Knightley Directed by Kenneth Branagh
From Paramount Pictures Rated PG-13 105 minutes
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
Someone call Hoarders, Chris Pine has a problem.
The guy who took over James Tiberius Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise, is now Jack Ryan, Tom Clancy’s most famous creation, a CIA analyst living in a world fraught with geo-political terror. Two franchises isn’t really that much to get worked up about, but if he’s the next Han Solo or James Bond or the Little Tramp then we’ll have to light the Hoarders beacon.
Of course, Pine is not the first person to tackle the late author’s most resilient character. Alec Baldwin played him in The Hunt For Red October, Harrison Ford took over for Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and then Ben Affleck — another potentially obsessive franchise collector — played the CIA analyst in The Sum of All Fears. If you recall, that last movie wasn’t received so well: 7 months after 9/11 it “entertained” viewers with a nuclear detonation at the Super Bowl. Classy.
Anyway, here we with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Pine, who plays a rebooted version of the mild-mannered spy. After a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he’s horribly injured in a helicopter crash and ambush, Ryan finds himself at Walter Reed Medical Center learning how to walk again and taking mini-meetings with Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), a CIA officer who eventually recruits Ryan into his fold of spies. His first assignment after getting his legs back is to infiltrate a Wall Street bank to trace shady accounts. And this being Wall Street, there are plenty.
One of them leads to a global conspiracy to undermine the American dollar, a plot that will be jumpstarted with a massive terrorist attack. It’s a believable scheme, but one that seems more likely to happen from JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs or any of the other crooked financial institutions in Lower Manhattan than any foreign power. Maybe that’s in the sequel, Jack Ryan: Securities Exchange Warrior.
I must admit, this movie’s chances of success looked less and less likely after it was announced it wasn’t opening in December 2013 and instead opening in January 2014, in the dregs of the new year, where most of the studios dump their stale scraps. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, though, is a plucky little spy thriller. It’s not quite up there with the much superior Harrison Ford movies, but it holds its own as the spunky reboot.
The movie’s central plot opens with a bathroom assassination attempt, and then a series of meetings with the film’s ultimate villain, Russian businessman Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the picture), a bad guy right of Rambo III. Yes, the movie sidesteps many real global issues — like terror in the Middle East and its overused catalogs of stereotyped villains — to basically refight the Cold War, this time with terrorism and currency manipulation. But it’s all given a fresh spin here, as Jack bats accusations back and forth with Cherevin, who apparently only leaves his well-guarded office for plot purposes.
Keira Knightley shows up at one point as Ryan’s girlfriend. She thinks she’s being cheated on. “No, of course not. I’m in the CIA,” Ryan says. She giggles like a schoolgirl. Later in the movie, poor Keira is escorted from a restaurant, rescued on the street, kidnapped, and then rescued again. If she were any less helpless, she would be a store mannequin.
The movie has a distinctly 24 and Jack Bauer vibe. The gadgets are ridiculously simple. A computer hacking module doesn’t even need a computer; just plug it into the wall and it uses the electrical infrastructure. A scene on a CIA airplane condenses six months of espionage and intelligence gathering into 20 minutes of keyboard mashing. Ryan pounces from monitor to monitor cross referencing his clues until one of the computer spits out the final answer: “The terrorist event will take place …” If this plane existed in Zero Dark Thirty, Bin Laden could have been killed in the womb.
Pine is a totally acceptable action star. He’s just such a safe choice — the vanilla of ice creams — that his casting is almost boring. It’s not a bad performance, it’s just bland. I did like Knightley, though, who turns off her British accent, which sends her into some kind of weird uncanny valley of artificiality. And Costner, make fun of his failures all you want, the guy is routinely spectacular in almost everything he touches, including here as he is snipes security guards from a Russian rooftop.
There is much to like in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and some to shrug at. And then there is the editing. All of the action, and even some of the snappier dialogue sequences, are edited in the Bourne style of handheld, quick-cut, super close-up messiness that many action movies have adopted. It’s just awful, awful, awful. Not only is it difficult to tell who is shooting who, or who is punching what, but the effect robs the film of its naturally kinetic pace and swaps in this manic, ADD version of cinematography and editing. It’s beyond ugly. And it needs to stop. Listen, not everything needs to be Lawrence of Arabia here, but if the editing of the movie moves faster than my eyes can focus, that’s a terrible and unforgivable problem.
That being said, I think there might be some real potential for this new franchise, assuming they don’t dump Pine like they did Affleck after Sum of All Fears. Judging by the quality of this one, I’d be interested in another, assuming that Pine can handle two franchises at once.