Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Violence and Intense Action, and brief Strong Language
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Adam Cozad & David Koepp
Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh & Colm Feore
The last time Jack Ryan appeared on the big screen he was being played by Ben Affleck in 2002’s THE SUM OF ALL FEARS. Over a decade has passed since that film was a box office hit. For some reason, the studio didn’t see a reason in bringing back the CIA agent to the movie theater until this year. JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is clearly Paramount’s attempt to jump-start a new franchise featuring Tom Clancy’s CIA agent character. Though the film has been a success worldwide, it didn’t even make its budget back domestically and opened to the underwhelming position of #4 at the box office in its first weekend. This all being said, it’s uncertain if we’ll ever see Chris Pine play Jack Ryan ever again and even more unlikely that the studio would even bother with a new Jack Ryan film for at least another decade. As far as the quality of SHADOW RECRUIT goes, it’s an average spy thriller with some fun to be had.
Jack Ryan is a young man eager to serve his country. After being badly injured in the line of duty, Jack winds up the rehab center of a military hospital overcoming cracked vertebrae and learning to walk again. The story then introduces Cathy, Jack’s nurse quickly turned into Jack’s girlfriend, and Thomas Harper, a mysterious stranger who hopes to recruit Jack into the CIA as an analyst. Cut to 2012, Jack is now covertly working as an analyst in a big company and has come across some suspicious activity from a massive Russian corporation. In order to stop a master plan to topple the US economy, Jack travels to Moscow to take down a Russian terrorist and juggling the affections of the unaware (though suspicious) Cathy.
As far as spy thrillers go, SHADOW RECRUIT is familiar in many ways. There’s obligatory action scenes throughout and a dangerous villain complete with an accent (in this case: Russian). The damsel in distress trope is also used at one point. There’s a ticking clock before all hell breaks loose. You get the idea pretty fast of how everything will play out. For the most part, it does paint by the numbers on the viewer’s expectations. However, there’s quite a bit of entertainment value to be had, despite the been-there-done-that nature of the plot.
The pacing is mostly fast, but feels too rushed in places. The prologue is needlessly complicated with unnecessary details. The director didn’t need to open with Jack Ryan in a college witnessing the 9/11 attacks on TV. They could have passed this bit over in one sentence of dialogue and considering that we see two other time periods before the title even appears on-screen (about 10 minutes into the movie, mind you), this bit could have easily been cut out. Most of the cinematography looks slick and the locations in Moscow are beautiful. Branagh is a capable director, as seen in THOR and FRANKENSTEIN. He seems to botch up a few scenes into messy incoherence though. The helicopter crash near the beginning is so laced with quick editing and shaky-cam that it was a jumbled mess of a scene. There is also a stabbing later on in the film that looks a tad off in the way it was shot. With all these flaws taken into consideration, the film still retains a big dumb fun factor to it.
The cast of SHADOW RECRUIT features some familiar faces. As the title character, Chris Pine emulates his performance of Kirk from the new STAR TREK series. It may as well have been titled CAPTAIN KIRK: SHADOW RECRUIT, because it’s the exact same performance. He’s serviceable enough as Jack Ryan, but there’s nothing particularly special that separates this character from all the other secret agents we’ve seen in film history. Keira Knightley is wooden as Cathy. I didn’t see a single bit of chemistry between her and Chris Pine, which is never a good thing. Luckily, she’s not in much of the film and entirely in the story for a damsel in distress car chase scene (which admittedly is pretty intense). Kevin Costner is good as Thomas Harper. I could see this character going on to become Costner’s assassin character in 3 DAYS TO KILL (coincidentally released a few weeks after this film). Then there’s Kenneth Branagh pulling double-duty as director and Russian villain. Branagh gives the best performance in the film and does scenery-chewing evil so well!
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is far from perfect and might not even be considered a very “good” movie, but it’s entertaining enough and builds to an exciting action-packed finale. The film can be downright chaotic in places, due to some shaky scenes or a pace that feels like it’s on fast-forward here and there. The action scenes are well done, as well as the suspense throughout. It’s definitely your average CIA thriller with a clichéd and overly familiar plot, but there’s some fun to be had throughout. It may wind up as more of a guilty pleasure, but JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT isn’t a bad way to kill some time.