Based on the Tom Clancy Jack Ryan series, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is director Kenneth Branagh’s foray into the political and economic espionage thriller field. It’s also the first to not be specifically based on a Clancy novel, but take inspiration from the series and create a new story for our central character.
Setting the scene it’s September 11 2001 and the World Trade Center has been attacked by terrorists, John Ryan (Chris Pine caked in make up to make him look significantly younger) watches on from a tv in his university in London where he’s studying economics. Flash forward a few more years and Ryan is in Afghanistan serving in the war when his troop mid-flight in a chopper are shot down and after managing to save his two comrades he’s left with an injury ruling out any potential future as a marines soldier. Super secretive CIA agent Harper (a weathered looking Kevin Costner) sees potential in Ryan and decides to recruit him into their shadow division working as an analyst of economic data to attempt to stop any future terrorist attacks. Flash forward again another 10 years and Ryan is generally quite content with his double-life. He’s successful at his job on Wall Street working for a large global asset company, his girlfriend and former rehabilitation doctor Cathy (Keira Knightley) adores him and it’s only when he notices some shady Russian trading that he gets thrown back into the field. He goes up against Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh stepping in front of, as well as behind the camera) an idealist bent on restoring the honour of Russia by secretly manipulating the assets of his organisation to cause a global economic crash.
The first half of the film is a little slow to get going, there’s a lot of groundwork that needs to be built and Ryan’s character development and motivations to establish. It’s not really until the story lands in Russia that things really start to get moving as Ryan begins to attempt to break into Cherevin’s super secure office to determine how extensive the threat is. For those who aren’t really familiar with economics it does feel a little convoluted and complicated, but once we’re given a Dummies Guide insight into how high the stakes are the sense of urgency and impending doom builds. This of course happens more towards the back half of the film, so this gives the movie a more book-ish nature and feel.
Pine’s Jack Ryan is likeable enough, he’s an idealist and patriot but not a zealot. We’re given enough of an insight into his life to relate to him and the vulnerability he feels when the things he holds dear come into danger. Pine is in a tricky position though, playing a character who has been portrayed by other notable stars such as Alec Baldwin, and Harrison Ford, but he manages to hold his own and bring a fresh younger take on Ryan. It’s Branagh’s creepy, determined and principled Cherevin that manages to command the screen every time he’s on it though. Bent on ruining the rest of the world in order to redeem Russia’s reputation he’s literally the antithesis of our hero Ryan. Knightley on the other hand is the stereotypical overly needy slightly paranoid girlfriend who is a bit of a nuisance and basically a plot point with not much substance. Whilst Costner in what little screen time he does have plays the secretive and shady mentor but unfortunately seems to disappear into the background.
I didn’t mind this film, however was a little confused that the first half of it was spent discussing geopolitics and economics as well as chopping and changing locations from London to Afghanistan to New York and then Russia. The trailer definitely has a lot to answer for as it makes the film out to be more of an action based film when in all honesty the nail-biting hair-raising stunts don’t make an appearance until the last 30-40minutes. There’s more looking worryingly at computer screens and talk about impending economic doom than gun toting and explosions.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Runtime: 105 minutes
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is out now through Paramount Pictures Australia