January 16, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”


JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT:  Watch It At Home – Tom Clancy’s Hero Is Plugged Into A Routine Action Movie

The fourth movie incarnation of Tom Clancy’s emblematic hero Jack Ryan (in 5 films) finds him much diminished.  Ryan was introduced in Clancy’s first novel, The Hunt For Red October, in 1984, which was filmed 6 years later with Alec Baldwin in the role; he was then recycled through Harrison Ford (Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger) and Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears).  The idea this time was to reboot Ryan as JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (whatever that means) for a younger crowd, so the script credited to Adam Cozad and David Koepp gives us Chris Pine as a puppy Ryan, and an updated origin story not based on a Clancy novel.

Portions of the Clancy-created mythology come into play:  the helicopter accident that damages Ryan’s back, the huge personal fortune he earns as a financial analyst, and his opthalmic surgeon romantic partner Cathy (Keira Knightley, apparently no longer able to get her own star vehicles greenlit–it’s a brutal business), although the story takes place before the two of them are wed.  This time, Ryan is recruited during his recovery from the accident by the CIA, in the person of ex-military man Harper (Kevin Costner), and the newly invented storyline sends him to Moscow, where fiendish Russians led by Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed) have an all-but impenetrable plot to destroy the United States through a combination of bombings and financial transactions.

Shadow Recruit is an adequate B-movie, but no more than that.  Branagh drank at the waters of commercial success with the first Thor, and he’s clearly decided that it’s a lot more fun than directing boring old Shakespeare adaptations (his next project is a rebooted Cinderella for Disney, with Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother).  Branagh isn’t very gifted at action sequences, though–the big motorcycle vs. van chase that concludes this one plays as warmed-over Bourne–and although he’s probably considered an “actor’s director,” the only performer he really cherishes is himself, doing a sub-James Bond villain routine complete with clipped accent, purring hostility and a live grenade mounted on his office desk.  Branagh lets Knightley overdo her characteristic mannerism of protruding her upper jaw to indicate concern, anger or determination, and he gets very little from Pine, whose performance is like an actor in a film-within-a-film who’s playing an “action star.”  He’s been much more entertaining as the rebooted Captain Kirk.  (Pine is a talented actor who desperately needs a project that doesn’t involve the word “reboot.”)  Costner could play this kind of part in his sleep, and he walks through his scenes with a relaxed authority, like he’s getting a joke no one else heard–it’s the kind of performance Gene Hackman used to give for paychecks late in his career.

The story makes very little sense, beginning when Ryan arrives in Moscow for what’s supposed to be a routine audit and is immediately the subject of an attempted assassination, when the last thing Cherevin should logically want to do at that point is draw attention to what’s going on there, and besides, he already has a perfectly good plan for diverting the audit.  You can practically feel the studio saying “It’s time for an action scene,” and its minions meekly supplying one.  The only time anyone on screen seems be having fun is in a showcase sequence about midway through where Cathy has to keep Cherevin’s attention while Jack is off doing skullduggery things–the two British actors get a chunk of insincere flirtation to play, and for a few minutes the movie comes to life.  Soon enough, though, Cathy is the hostage that all beautiful girlfriends in all Hollywood action movies (unless they’re Jennifer Lawrence or Angelina Jolie) have to be, and Costner and Pine are frantically looking at computer screens and barking out orders as cars screech around corners.

Money was spent on this attempt to launch a new franchise, and there’s good use of Russian locations and fair CG.  Hans Zambarloukos’s cinematography and Andrew Laws’ production design practically give off a new-car smell, and the movie, edited by Martin Walsh, is gratifyingly swift, over in 105 minutes including credits.  No one involved need be embarrassed by their work.  But while Tom Clancy was hardly a literary stylist, he knew how to put a plot together and engross a reader for 1000 pages of dense prose.  Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit isn’t worthy of his name or his character.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."