MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’


Film: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Actor: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

More than a decade has passed since Ben Affleck portrayed Jack Ryan and saved the United States in The Sum Of All Fears, and in that time America has been sorely lacking a national hero to believe in. This weekend Hollywood hopes there is still room in our hearts for such a protagonist as they try and reboot the character, only this time with Chris Pine in the lead role.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the kind of reboot that could care less whether or not you remember any of the previous actors or films that have portrayed Tom Clancy’s beloved secret agent. This is 2014, not 2002 (Sum Of All Fears) or 1992 (Patriot Games), and the rules for creating a slick action thriller have changed. You still need to build tension, yes, but you’re dealing with an audience that is spoon fed fast-pact, shaky action epics on a regular basis. Pacing is everything here, and to its credit Jack Ryan never wastes a moment of screen time. Before the title flashes across the screen you’ve met Pine, revisited the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (a key component in Ryan’s motivation to join the marines), and learned of his decision to join the CIA following a horrible accident in Afghanistan. You know everything you need to know in order to care about the character and his problems within the first fifteen minutes, but what comes next is where things begin to ever-so-slightly fall apart.

When the film picks up again a number of years have passed and Jack Ryan is no longer dealing with the injuries he incurred during his time overseas. He’s a compliance specialist on wall street where it’s his mission to quietly hunt for terrorism funding at major firms around New York City. When evidence of such wrong doing surfaces, Jack is ordered to Russia to investigate his findings. Upon arrival he finds himself in a world of gunfire and two-faced business men, with only days left to stop a devious plot that could bring the entirety US economy to its knees.

While Jack Ryan nails pacing and offers a plot that is genuinely interesting, the execution of the story, as well as the acting of its star, leave a lot to be desired. At least a quarter of the film features characters engaging in some form of technology, and whether its waiting for an email, hacking a system, or waiting for instructions via text it’s not all that interesting to watch. You get the feeling a lot of the work being done on foot could just as easily be handled from Ryan’s couch as long as the wifi doesn’t give out. This ultimately makes the moments of true action, which do happen every so often, feel extremely padded even though the film is under two-hours in length.

Another issue the film struggles to overcome is familiarity. From the nagging fiancé who knows he’s leading a double life and ultimately gets involved herself, to the literal ticking time bomb that is reserved for the third act, there is a lot of material in Jack Ryan any casual action movie fan has seen a dozen or more times in the past. To its credit, most of these clichés are executed beautifully, and it ultimately makes for a decent story, but don’t fool yourself into thinking this is by any means a ‘modern’ take on the spy genre.

As for Pine, I am beginning to fear that he is simply incapable of showcasing any emotions other than rage and snark on-screen. His first turning point in the film, involving a room full of students watching a news broadcast in London as the twin towers collapse, misses a key opportunity to forge a connection with the viewers due entirely to Pine’s inability to emote anything beyond an ‘aw shucks’ expression. If the majority of the script was anything more than nerdy number crunching and tongue-in-cheek spy talk the film would have suffered greatly.

There are great performances to be found in this thriller however, and the one most will be talking about comes from Kevin Costner. His turn as the man who recruits Ryan and ultimately gives him purpose in life is both tough and endearing. The role demands he be someone you feel like you feel like you can trust, but only slightly more than you would trust anyone you may suspect to be evil, and Costner nails his performance throughout.

When you wipe away all the modern bells and whistles Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a cliché-laden spy thriller that is too often stunted by the limits of its lead. If this film came out at any other point in the year it would likely be forgotten within a week or two, but thanks to brilliant planning on the studio’s part it may be just mediocre enough to sit atop the box office until Robocop or something similar knocks it down in February. A sequel is unlikely, but for those needing a decent fix of action you could a lot worse than this 106-minute romp.

Score: B

Written by: James Shotwell (Twitter)

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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