Tom Clancy’s memorable hero Jack Ryan isn’t new to the film world, but “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” differs from past releases. Straying from Clancy’s novels, the 2014 blockbuster wanders into original territory. The Ryan revival flick benefits from legendary director Kenneth Branagh’s visionary touch, strong acting from a veteran cast, and fresh elements to spice up the Tom Clancy spy mold. Unfortunately innovation occasionally borders on cliché, but overall “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” pleasantly reboots the Jack Ryan character.
Audiences meet the latest Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) in his early days at the London School of Economics. It’s 9/11, and Ryan joins a crowded room to watch the Twin Towers crumble. Action leaps into Afghanistan where Ryan, a second lieutenant Marine, saves two fellow soldiers when their chopper is shot down. His bravery results in significant bodily harm, and Ryan begins physical therapy with future partner Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley). While undergoing treatment, CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) visits Ryan and offers him a position.
Accepting the role, Ryan operates his post under the guise of a Wall Street compliance officer. During data analysis, he notices several withheld Russian accounts. In the aftermath of a Russian Federation vote, he feels there’s a substantial threat to the United States should the money be rearranged. Harper deploys Ryan in Russia, claiming the mission is merely a routine audit. As expected, this proves false when the bodyguard (Nonso Anozie) who escorts him to the hotel attempts to murder Ryan. The seemingly straightforward trip morphs into a convoluted exploration of Viktor Cherevin’s (Kenneth Branagh) finances and ultimate motives.
Jack Ryan has assumed several well-known faces, and Chris Pine’s personification deepens the human side of the classic Clancy spy. “Shadow Recruit” begins with Ryan in therapy, attempting to walk again. He begs his doctor for pain meds, debasing the common conception of our on-screen supermen. When Harper proposes CIA work, Ryan mentions his opposition to waterboarding and other such unsavory practices. Again, this differentiates Ryan, distinguishing him from macho heroes who fire from the hip (sorry Rambo). Further solidifying Ryan’s humanity is his reaction after his first kill in the film: shaking hands, a panicked phone call to headquarters. In the midst of the fight, he remained collected, fueled by adrenaline. The aftermath finds a much less composed protagonist, which makes him more relatable.
Pine’s performance profits from a fantastic supporting cast. Kevin Costner masters the seasoned CIA officer Thomas Harper, playing a tough but compassionate leader. He serves as a mentor to Ryan, pushing Jack while offering bits of wisdom and advice. It’s one of Costner’s best recent roles. Sir Kenneth Brahagh however captures audience attention as Russian businessman Viktor Cheverin. He nails the accent, playing a cunning villainous mastermind. Keira Knightley portrays Dr. Cathy Muller well, though the character isn’t remarkably compelling.
It’s Branagh’s directional work however, which set “Shadow Recruit” apart from previous Jack Ryan flicks and related thrillers. The grounded protagonist feels more natural than the superhuman Bourne archetype, a welcome character change. Additionally, suspense abounds and primarily relies on dialogue and situational action. Don’t expect a seemingly endless string of fight scenes. That’s not to say there’s no action; on the contrary there are several beat ‘em up segments, but they luckily don’t stretch on indefinitely.
Unfortunately, despite the innovative touches, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” suffers from age old monotony. When Ryan’s helicopter is shot down, he manages to save two soldiers before succumbing to his wounds. Although the beaten body of our hero reinforces the human side of Ryan, playing the protector negates this notion slightly. Fights seem a bit far-fetched, though this has become the norm in thrillers. Ryan’s fling with former physical therapist Dr. Muller almost ruins the movie. Their entire relationship adheres to a trite patient-doctor dynamic, a painfully predictable plotline which contributes nil to the narrative. Well, it allows for the “secret-withheld-from-a-loved-one” brood, which again, felt unnecessary. Fortunately the movie doesn’t dwell considerably on the love story, and the surrounding cast as well as Branagh’s masterful directing redeems the overall movie. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” harkens pleasantly back to the roots of our beloved protagonist, and manages to entertain despite occasional annoyances.