FILM REVIEW: Jack Ryan – Shadow Recruit

Shadow Recruit stars Chris Pine as CIA agent Jack Ryan, Keira Knightley as Ryan’s suspicious but in-the-dark fiancé, Kevin Costner as CIA overseer Thomas Harper and Branagh himself as ruthless ex-KGB agent Viktor Cherevin.

Pine is the fourth actor to take on the role of Jack Ryan, Tom Clancy’s recurring protagonist, following the likes of Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October, 1990), Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, 1992 & Clear and Present Danger, 1994) and new Batman Ben Affleck (Sum of All Fears, 2002).

Distancing this adaptation from the Cold War, Shadow Recruit is focused around the world post 9/11. Pine’s fresh-faced undergrad Ryan decides to ditch his PhD and join the military following the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 – a move that leads him to life under the employ of the CIA. Working covertly as an analyst under the guise as a broker on Wall Street, Ryan discovers some suspect Russian accounts and is ordered by his secret employers to investigate. When he arrives in Moscow, however, he uncovers a plot to bankrupt the USA and cripple the West.

The manipulation of world finance is slightly more subtle than the standard stop-the-nuke plot angle, and it sets up a platform for more intricate espionage, with seedy, off-the-grid agencies going head to head in an arena favoring brains over the traditional brawn.

Sadly the film doesn’t deliver.

The cast appears solid enough on paper. Pine, Costner and Branagh have all shown off their action capabilities in the past. However, the juddering script gives them very little to work with, leading to few standout performances. I really wanted to enjoy Branagh’s Cherevin more than I did. The hard and ruthless agent is introduced like a dead-eyed shark: ruthless, efficient and dangerous. Sadly, his influence wanes in the final quarter of the film and he is far too easily defeated.

Of all the characters, Kiera Knightley’s Cathy suffers the most from the script. Her relationship with Ryan serves as nothing more than a distraction from an already stretched plot. Cathy is allowed two major contributions to the main plot.  The first is to seduce Branagh’s all-too-easily entranced Cherevin. The second is to crack the location of an impending terrorist attack by looking at the terrorist’s Facebook photos, a solution that had somehow baffled a room full of highly trained CIA agents.

The role is patronizing to the point of being plain insulting.

The casting of Knightley puzzled me. I like her as an actor, but found it hard to really warm to her American accent. There have definitely been worse attempts at the twang by other actors in the past, but the fact that Knightley comes across as so quintessentially British in everything else she’s in makes it really hard to believe!

What really lets the film down isn’t its talent, but its run time. A high concept film like this needs at least two hours to establish characters, negotiate the story and then tie up loose ends. The meager 104 minutes doesn’t give director Branagh enough time to play with, and forces a blunt sprint to the finish.

This rush is most evident in the development of Ryan’s character. The hero’s capabilities as an agent are renegotiated on a scene-by-scene basis. One minute he is panicked and overwhelmed, the next he is a leader barking orders at other agents, his composed, Sherlockesque mind pulling apart plans the (seemingly inept) Russian agents had been planning for years.

You also get the feeling that the film itself can’t decide what it wants to be.  One minute it is a suspense thriller, where the financial stability of the Western world depends on our hero’s ability to stay calm and outwit his adversaries. The next minute he is John McClane-ing it through New York City, pulverizing a Russian sleeper agent on a moving van; the only thing missing is an angry Samuel L Jackson!

I didn’t hate this film but, with its cast, I expected more. What is most frustrating about Shadow Recruit is that it really could have been good. Given a better run-time and stronger script, I would really like to believe there was really an engaging and clever film here.  Instead, you get something throwaway and forgettable; fun, but with no substance.

 

Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Dan Tovey

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