MRR Review: "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Rating: PG-13
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: January 17, 2014
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Genre: Action / Drama / Thriller

The fifth film in the Jack Ryan series is an intentional departure from previous movies about the character created by novelist Tom Clancy. While the first four films were based on Clancy's books, the latest is an original screenplay by screenwriter Hossein Amini based on Clancy's CIA agent character. Chris Pine stars in the title role. He is the fourth actor, following Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, to play the part. Kevin Costner stars as CIA agent William Harper, while Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film, acts as villain Viktor Cherevin. Keira Knightley portrays Ryan's love interest, wife Cathy Ryan.

The film opens as Ryan flies to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to fight terrorism as a United States Marine. Profoundly affected by 9/11 and the subsequent war in the Middle East, Ryan returns to the United States hoping to help his country combat terrorism to the best of his ability.

In his new position as a junior analyst with the CIA's financial intelligence unit, Ryan heads to Moscow where he inadvertently uncovers Russian businessman Cherevin's scheme to ruin the U.S. and global economies. Working with seasoned CIA agent Harper, he sets out to foil Cherevin using little more than his wits while shielding Cathy from collateral damage.

A taut and suspenseful film, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" showcases a handful of characters, all of whom have something to hide or lose, in the face of impending international calamity. Throughout it all, Ryan struggles to determine who he is able to trust while adapting to the new world order and remembering why he joined the ranks of the CIA in the first place.

As an actor, Branagh not only plays the villain to perfection. Directorially, he brings a distinct edge to a franchise with a loyal fan base without alienating those very fans. Having recently surprised critics with his deft direction of "Thor," it appears Branagh has cemented his place among the "big movie" directors.

Costner, who is adjusting to playing the role of mentor versus the leading man - he recently played Superman's father, rather than the Man of Steel himself, for instance - is surprisingly natural as Ryan's handler. His role and his performance allow him to make an impact on the viewer without being the film's focal point.

Knightley, whose character travels to Russia despite Ryan's admonishments, appears to enjoy her role. In the weeks leading up to the film's release, she told media that she was ready to play a part in a film that was largely about entertainment, and that the Jack Ryan feature fit the bill perfectly. She added that she had been drawn to working with Branagh as well.

Pine, best known for playing Captain James T. Kirk in the recent Star Trek films, has Ryan's character down perfectly. He brings a more vulnerable, human element to the role than his predecessors did, and yet portrays Ryan as the quick-witted intelligence agent he is.

First introduced in Clancy's 1984 novel, "The Hunt for Red October," Ryan is known for relying on his intelligence and intuition rather than his brawn, precision shooting or technological savvy. In fact, some fans of the character even say Ryan's wits are his primary weapon against opponents. For this reason, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" offers a plot complex enough to be worthy of the protagonist's brilliance.

None of this is to suggest, however, that the film is lacking in action. From beginning to end, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" keeps its audience in suspense while entertaining it with a fast-paced, thriller of a script.

Film producers David Barron and Mace Neufeld decided to scrap the Clancy timeline and "reboot" this movie with a fresh script. While Neufeld has been involved with several big screen adaptations of Clancy novels, he said he first wanted to do a reboot nearly a decade ago. He said he opted to forge ahead once he was able to bring Branagh on board. Barron, meanwhile, brings experience producing several Harry Potter movies to the project.

Clancy, who died in the autumn of 2013, introduced Ryan during the latter years of the Cold War. However, despite its setting in Russia and its use of a Russian villain, this film bears little resemblance to that era. Rather, it offers a picture of the contemporary world in which terrorism knows no particular country and the lines between good and evil are not so easily drawn. Despite its left-turn from the Jack Ryan novels, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is dedicated to the late Clancy.

Rating: 3 out of 5