Going into “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” I had a free mind with nothing to compare the film to. What I can say is this: “Shadow Recruit” is an extremely effective espionage thriller that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Building up a tension and uneasiness similar to the times of the Cold War, Branagh is able to effectively create a world where nothing is what it seems and you can’t trust anyone…not even the person you love.
(Just a disclaimer: I have not seen any previous Jack Ryan film before. I have not see The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, or The Sum of All Fears. I also don’t know much about the character from the actual novels except for the research I have done.)
Moving right into the story of Jack Ryan, we get an immediate sense of what makes him so unique. Studying at the London School of Economics, he watches on a TV as the events of 9/11 occur and finds himself motivated to do something. Jumping to 2003 now as he’s on a chopper heading into Afghanistan…only for it to be shot down. His injuries are severe and there’s the possibility he may never walk again. It’s here where he meets Kathy (Knightley), who is a medical student tasked with helping his rehabilitation. He also meets William Harper (Costner), a CIA agent who recruits Jack Ryan into the world of Wall Street as a mole who monitors funds that could possibly be linked to terrorist groups.
While working his Wall Street job, he uncovers what seems to be a Russian plot slowly taking form, which could be catastrophic for the United States. Ryan is sent out in the field to Moscow, so he could continue his investigation and try to figure out just how big the threat is. Ryan is greeted at the airport by a bodyguard of the company he’s investigating. Bringing Ryan to his hotel room, it only makes sense that the bodyguard is actually an assassin and right away Ryan is out of his comfort zone fighting for his life. What we see is a man who is fighting for his life…obviously he has some training in combat, but that doesn’t take away from the horror of the situation he finds himself in. Pine is able to portray the shock and terror of what he’s done and it allows the audience to feel just as shaken as him.
From here on out, the movie is more cat and mouse between Jack Ryan and Viktor Cherevin (Branagh), the Russian man behind the plot to take down the United States. For the first 2/3’s of the film, Branagh does a fine job at balancing action with the story trying to be told. He uses the Moscow setting perfectly, with the bright lights and the live atmosphere and the business going on at all times…the new Moscow as people call it. It’s only when the film reverts back to the U.S. where things take a turn for the worst.
As the new Jack Ryan, Chris Pine does a fine job as a man who’s best skill is his intellect, but has the ability to defend himself when the time comes. The chemistry between Pine and Knightley is believable and “Shadow Recruit” avoids the cliche (to an extent) of damsel in distress with the character of Cathy clearly being able to handle herself. There are moments where the dialogue between the two is a bit…off, but it’s not enough to fracture the movie as a whole. Branagh though…it’s clear he’s having the most fun in his role with his thick Russian accent and cold, cold stare. Branagh is able to get into the skin of Cherevin and make the character a time bomb…unpredictable…you just never know what he’s capable of.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” will bring comparisons to both the Bourne and 007 franchises…with the action sequences we see in “Shadow Recruit,” it’s easy to understand why. What makes Jack Ryan different is that he isn’t a person who is trained for this type of combat, but finds himself having to fight for his life. If it weren’t for a weaker third act, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” could have made a case for being one of the top action movies of the year. Instead, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is an enjoyable espionage thriller that will keep you glued to the screen for the whole 105 minutes. While it isn’t a perfect movie, it most certainly won’t be a watch that you’ll regret.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is now playing.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, and Keira Knightley