The novelty of Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst character Jack Ryan is that as a Phd he’s not just a gun-toting assassin but a highly educated man who uses his intellect to combat villains. It’s only after the bad guys prove themselves to be sufficiently non-compliant with American values that he administers an ass-kicking.
Jack Ryan has had nearly as many incarnations as James Bond having been portrayed by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and now Chris Pine. The latest Ryan film, the Kenneth Brannagh-directed Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit, sees Pine play Jack Ryan as a young pretty boy economics Phd and former marine. After nearly dying in a devastating helicopter crash he is mysteriously head hunted by Naval officer and CIA spook William Harper (Kevin Costner) who wants to use Jack’s economics knowledge and analytical skills to infiltrate major banks and sniff out transactions that might be funding terrorist attacks. When Jack discovers a series of questionable payments from a mysterious Russian company he is despatched to Moscow to confront Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) the man behind the dodgy accounts. A bigger problem for Jack is trying to conceal his life as an undercover agent from his girlfriend Dr Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley).
This is old school pulpy espionage fodder so it would be unreasonable to expect a work of cinematic art but today’s audience shouldn’t have to contend with such a cliché fest. Not only is the good ol’ USA once again battling those pesky Russians, but this film features the creaky old race against time to disarm the bomb, elite assassins who can effortlessly kill everyone they encounter except Jack Ryan and a supposed hero who survives all manner of beatings, gun shots and car crashes. There’s almost enough material for an Austin Powers style parody.
There’s also some ludicrous logic at work here. At one point Jack sneaks out of a dinner date with Cherevin to steal a code from the villain’s office and simply walks in not expecting anyone to recognise him or to be captured on security cameras. Also, when Jack reveals to his long suffering girlfriend Dr Cathy that all his secretive behaviour is due to him being a government agent rather than a philanderer she just accepts it with a smile. The film also treats us to some hideously cornball dialogue as in the scene where Jack and Dr Cathy are frantically racing to stop a major terrorist attack and all of a sudden they start making dinner plans.
Admittedly, audiences want intrigue, tension and action from a Jack Ryan film and for the most part, Shadow Recruit delivers. The shootings and explosions are sufficiently loud and visceral and editing frantic enough to create a sense of escalating threat. Unfortunately, the fight sequences are extremely disappointing as the dreaded wobble-cam technique makes it impossible to tell who is winning or even who is fighting who.
Pine is serviceable as Jack Ryan but as he demonstrated in the Star Trek reboots, he’s not the most charismatic actor and seems more suited to playing a college jock who gives nerds wedgies than a noble hero. Kevin Costner makes an appropriately stern father figure as Jack’s venerable boss despite the fact that he’s only allowed to speak in clichés. Keira Knightley pulls off a decent American accent but despite being a doctor, she’s really only there as a damsel in distress. Kenneth Branagh is unintentionally comical as the dour Russian Cherevin as he grimaces at the camera in extreme close-up, talks like Boris Badanov from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons and looks as if he’s trying to emulate the more ridiculous Bond villains.
For all its pitfalls Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit does feature a pacey script, some attractive international locales and reasonably impressive production design but it’s hardly a milestone in spy cinema.
Nick’s rating: **1/2.
Genre: Action/ drama.
Director(s): Kenneth Branagh.
Release date: 16th Jan 2014.
Running time: 105 mins.