Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Rated M (Violence and infrequent coarse language, 105 minutes.

This film will probably not be on Vladimir Putin’s must see list. But, by the last scene, it will definitely be on President Obama’s list.

It is an action thriller, an espionage drama, based on characters created by Tom Clancy. In fact, Jack Ryan appeared on screen almost a quarter of a century ago in the form of Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October. He was then portrayed by Harrison Ford in two films during the 1990s, Patriot Games and A Clear and Present Danger. His previous incarnation was by Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears ten years ago.

This time round it is a much younger Jack Ryan. He is played by Chris Pine who has come to substantial screen presence with his role as Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek films. He is young when the film opens, doing his PhD in London at the time of 9/11. As a result, he joins the marines, fights in Afghanistan, writes high-powered confidential reports and saves two fellow-marines in a helicopter explosion. And this before the title comes on screen.

During his rehabilitation and learning to walk again, he is helped by his physio supervisor, Kath (Keira Knightly) and visited by a CIA officer (Kevin Costner). Then it is 2013, Jack is a 30s something financial analyst on Wall Street, already in a relationship with Kath (no wasting time with onscreen romantics here). Transition to Moscow and an introduction to the villain, an ultra-patriotic financier who is masterminding a plot to bring the US enconomy to Depression. Everything introduced – and then into it.

A quick review would be to say that if you enjoyed the Bourne films, then you will probably like this one. It is smaller-scale, just over a day in Moscow for Jack (and Kath who turns up as well) with Kevin Costner there to supervise (with the help of a huge range of surveillance and tracking and communication soft and hardware that seems to work instantly), getting the blocked financial information. There are some fights and a desperate car chase. The rest of the film is a day in New York to stop an activated ‘sleeper’ from performing another terrorist attack. It’s a variation on those CIA espionage novels, not great but effectively entertaining. And very ra-ra pro-US – and the Russians sinister.

With Kenneth Branagh having time out from the classics (though he also directed Thor) and enjoying himself with this kind of popular fare, he guides Chris Pine in an action performance even though he looks, as Costner remarks, like a boy scout on a picnic. It is good to see Costner in a good part and Keira Knightly having something to do. But the key performance comes from Branagh himself, making the villain (whom we see as instantly brutal) an interestingly complex character, not a comic-book cutout.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.


Out January 16, 2014.

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