Second Lieutenant Jack Ryan is critically wounded while serving in Afghanistan while saving two of his own men when their helicopter is shot down. His heroism attracts the attention of Thomas Harper of the CIA who recruits him for his ethics, patriotism and, most importantly, his ability to recognize complex patterns. Ten years later, Ryan uncovers a plot to attack the United States by simultaneously activating a sleeper cell and celling of a considerable amount of interest in the US Dollar.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the fifth film in the series of Jack Ryan films based on the books and characters created by Tom Clancy. This is the first one that is not directly drawn from one of the author’s novels. Kenneth Branagh is the director of this installment but never brings anything unique or distinct to the production, providing a far more workman-like product than his previous film Thor (2011). He also stars at the chief very Bond like villain of the film, Viktor Cherevin. Chris Pine steps into the character of Jack Ryan becoming the fourth actor to play the role. He brings a more intellectual version of Ryan to the screen but slips up when it comes time for the action. Kevin Costner is the biggest surprise in the film as Thomas Harper, who looks at Ryan as a protege working hard to coach and train him to become the ultimate spy. His handling of Harper’s lack of interest in Ryan and his fiance’s conversations is far more interesting and entertaining than most of the rest of the film. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a barely adequate thriller with decent acting and exciting chases that is just entertaining enough to get by. It works very hard to be only palatable, where it could have been exceptional.
The mediocrity of the film is evident in the opening scenes where having a young Jack Ryan attending college in the UK witnesses the horrifying events of September 11, 2001 on the TV – far from home. The scene is intended to draw emotion and empathy for the time and the character but is presented in a way that dilutes and sterilizes the moment draining all emotion and horror from the event’s impact on Jack Ryan. This scene is followed by Ryan, now a soldier, aboard a helicopter where the audience is told of his dedication and heroism, that he volunteered for this duty. A better script is needed to have Pine emote these feelings or the other characters to express their admiration more effectively; here, all the meaning is lost. After the helicopter is shot down, again the audience is told of Ryan’s heroism as he is taken away from the wreckage on a stretcher, his spine severely damaged. The film rebounds slightly with the introduction of Thomas Harper who steps in to offer the young man hope and a future, but as Ryan falls for his nurse, Cathy Muller, the story gets a little confused and watered down without establishing an authentic relationship.
After Ryan takes Harper up on his offer and becomes a mole of sorts undercover on Wall Street, his home life with Muller as they struggle with their relationship mars any attempt to stay focused on an uncovered plot by Viktor Cherevin to destroy the value of US currency. The whole ordeal is made light of as if the film is insulting itself when Harper denounces their bickering as the three meet for the first time in Russia and Harper point blank tells them they are wasting his time. The audience can only agree as their time has been wasted as well. Ryan’s fiance does manage a terrific scene a short time later when she must flirt with Cherevin while Ryan infiltrates the Russain’s highly secured office in order to steal the secrets behind Cherevin’s plot. From then on, Muller is nothing more than a damsel in distress for which Ryan must risk the future of the free world in order to save.
Chris Pine makes for a wimpy Luke Skywalker version of Jack Ryan as he whines throughout second guessing his every move. He is a Ryan that would have been shot dead if not for the guidance of his Jedi Master, his Obi-Wan Kenobi, Thomas Harper. He almost gains his license to spy when he has to outsmart and out gun a hired hit man (Nonso Anozie) sent by Cherevin to kill him. Pine’s best moments are when he is deciphering the data, displaying the intelligence behind the character. He provides Ryan with a jittery body language and head tilt that has the character thinking with his hands and jerky glances. For the most part this works tremendously well adding immediacy to the scenes that otherwise could be very stilted. He also gives Ryan a smart ass sense of humor that plays well off Branagh’s Cherevin. Pine makes for an interesting spy, an good look action hero, but not a very convincing Jack Ryan – at least not compared to his predecessors, Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck.
Both Keira Knightley and Kenneth Branagh are saddled with stiff, unconvincing accents for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit that are distracting and uncomfortable. Knightley who plays Ryan’s American lover Cathy Muller but is not convincingly in any way. Somehow, between the accent, the character and the cinematography, the film has Knightley lose much of the aura she normally brings to a role maker her far less attractive. It is only in the dinner scene where her stunning beauty is allowed to shine through the bland role. Branagh handles the accent and the character as if he were a major Bond villain in the worst entry of that series. Chewing on scenery and commanding a chest beating stance, the actor prances around a menacingly as possible, grunting and firing his weapon in squint-eyed Dirty Harry fashion. As with Knightley, his best scene is when he reveals the character’s vulnerability during the dinner scene.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a lackluster action film, a limp thriller and a predictable spy flick. It is confidently directed without any risks or flavor. The car chases are full of jerky camera shots and quick cuts to suggest movement while remaining sluggish. It is an adequate film that is never terrible enough to hate or regret but also never astonishing or exciting enough to recommend or appreciate. Chris Pine is fine in the film but not suited for role while Kevin Costner surprises how well he fits into the mentor role, full of wisdom, experience and wisecracks. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a renter, wait for it on DVD.
2.5 out of 5