You might be thinking that the producers of this Jack Ryan, a Tom Clancy based character, film must have been drinking heavily the day they decided to offer the job of directing this spy thriller to Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh. Then after you sit down and think about it a while you begin to realize that it makes complete sense. Yes, he has previously directed and acted in Shakespeare based films like Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, but of late he is more apt to direct films like Thor and the post credits scene in Iron Man 2. It is not a bad idea to bring a spot of intelligence and acting acumen to action thriller films.
That is exactly what Kenneth Branagh attempts to do with the prequel film, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Author Tom Clancy’s most famous and beloved character Jack Ryan is not just brawn, though he knows how to handle himself, rather his most potent weapon is his intellect. Branagh and the writers have decided to go back in the evolution of the character to the beginning to show how he became the man we have come to know.
As it did many Americans, September 11, 2001 made a big impression on Jack Ryan (Chris Pine – Star Trek, People Like Us), a university student studying at the London School of Economics. He decides to join the U.S. Marines and is sent off to Afghanistan. Riding in a helicopter Jack almost dies after being shot down. He survives, but has many months of rehab ahead of him. An intern on her physical rehabilitation rotation, Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley – Begin Again, Atonement), helps him walk again. She agrees to have dinner with him when he is able to run. Little does he know Jack is being watched by the CIA. He has caught the eye of senior agent, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner – Dances With Wolves, The Untouchables). Harper approaches Jack and says that if he finishes his studies that he wants him to work as an economic analyst for the CIA.
Now Jack is engaged to Cathy and living together in New York. She thinks he is an economic analyst and he is…though she does not know he works for the CIA. Jack’s job involves him working on Wall Street monitoring different large companies to catch any terrorist plots before they have a chance to be put into action.
While working at one particular company Jack does come across some irregularities. He then has to travel to Moscow to check out a company run by Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh – My Week With Marilyn, Valkyrie). Cherevin has sent a man to meet Jack at the airport who will serve as his interpreter and body guard. Jack learns the hard way that Cherevin does not want him safe and sound as the man (Nonso Anozie – The Grey, Ender’s Game) tries to kill him. Harper, after finding out what happened, informs Jack that he is no longer just an analyst, but has now become an active agent. Soon Jack uncovers a huge plot that will cripple the United States economically. He and Harper will have to outwit Cherevin in order to put a halt to the terrorist plot.
Chris Pine is now the fourth actor (Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck) to play Jack Ryan. He is a solid pick as he is able to handle the action scenes as well as convey the character’s intelligence in a realistic manner. It doesn’t seem like totally out of the realm of possibility that he could uncover Cherevin’s plan (any more than any other film of this type) or be able to kick some bad guy butt. He will never go up against Branagh for a Shakespearean role, but comports himself adequately within the action thriller genre.
The story itself is rather run-of-the-mill with no twists or turns or betrayals. Bad guys are bad guys from the beginning and good guys remain good guys. At other times things were just completely fantastic. And by fantastic I mean far-fetched. Despite the predictability factor the movie did work on the entertainment level. Despite the fact that the film entertained me in the way that typical films of this style do there were still some things that had me scratching my head.
For instance, how many agents are we to believe that the United States sent to Russia? It seemed to me at certain times that you could not sneeze without hitting an American agent. Is the CIA the single biggest employer in the U.S.? A room in which a huge fight had happened and a dead body was in was cleaned up including the installation of new fixtures was done in the blink of an eye. I understand that in this genre of film you do have to suspend your grasp on reality a little, but this was pushing it for me.
Another problem was the antiquated nature of some things. A bomb with a timer rather than a remote device? Pictures (hard copies) taken of a location for a terrorist attack rather than using Google Maps or the like? All these added together made it seem more like a film from the 80s.
After watching it, digesting what I saw and then formulating an opinion I have to say the Branagh, Knightley and Pine have rejuvenated the Jack Ryan franchise. I am hopeful about the future of Jack Ryan films.
-Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room
-Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit
-Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action
-Old Enemies Return
-Deleted + Extended Scenes