Film Review | Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan poster

Starring | Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley
Writer | Adam Cozad, David Koepp
Director | Kenneth Branagh
Run-Time | 105 minutes
Rating | 12A

Plot | Whilst recovering from a helicopter crash that seemingly derails his military career, second lieutenant Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is recruited to be an undercover CIA analyst on Wall Street. Ten years into the job, Ryan find himself somewhat reluctantly being activated as a full field agent when his boss (Costner) needs someone to investigate the shady dealings of Russian oligarch Viktor Cherevin (Branagh).

Review | It has been twelve years since Jack Ryan last appeared on the big screen, when soon-to-be-Batman Ben Affleck portrayed the Tom Clancy creation in The Sum of All Fears. Now it is the turn of the current Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) to stamp his mark on the character in this solid franchise reboot.

Adam Cozad and David Koepp’s screenplay wastes little time in bringing us up to date with Ryan’s revised history. A university student with a brilliant financial mind, he drops out of his PhD to enlist with the marines after witnessing the events of 9/11. Our protagonist is injured when his helicopter is shot down whilst on duty in Afghanistan, on a mission he volunteered for. We are then given a whistle stop tour of his recovery, which serves as a vehicle for two important first meetings – one, with his is future fiancée Cathy (Knightley, sporting a fairly convincing American accent) and the other with CIA operative Thomas Harper (an entertainingly blunt Costner). Harper recruits Ryan to be an undercover analyst on Wall Street, his remit to keep an eye out for trading linked to potential terror attacks. Fast forward ten years, and we are ready for the actual plot of the film, involving a Russian oligarch (Branagh), a plan to destabilise the dollar, and Ryan’s unplanned activation as a full field agent. As super condensed as this all sounds (it takes place in the space of no more than twenty minutes, half an hour at an absolute push), the audience is never overwhelmed, and no scene is wasted.

The activation highlights one endearing aspect of Shadow Recruit – Ryan isn’t a natural agent. Sure, he’s got his marine training to fall back on (as we are reminded in one particularly tense scene), but that is a world away from being trained as a spy/covert operative. Ryan is, essentially, an academic that happens to have had standard military training, and it shows (he handles himself adequately in one-on-one encounters, but is all at sea when it comes to the aftermath). This naivety is reinforced with how panicked he gets early on when the going gets tough, and he’s trying to dissuade Cathy that there is anything wrong. It adds just a shade of depth to the character that most Bonds or Bournes do not get – Ryan seems that little bit more human.

Ryan’s relationship with Cathy is played out well by Pine and Knightley, who seem to have genuine chemistry. There is a warmth to the scenes they share and, whilst the script is nothing special at all, there are some nice, naturalistic moments that help ground the characters (a wink, a sly touching a fingers in a tense situation).

As the film’s antagonist, Branagh’s Cerevin has been accused of being an 80’s throwback – a possibly outdated retro stereotype hearkening back to cold war feature films. That is a little wide of the mark. Yes, the character is very Cookie cutter ‘shady businessman’, but it fits the job fine and Branagh himself is entertaining. Some of the film’s lighter moments come from Branagh’s delivery of some wonderfully acerbic lines.

On the whole, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a good action caper. Though the majority of the script is workmanlike, there are a few genuinely humorous pieces of dialogue sprinkled throughout (there’s quite a bit of exposition, but it is on the whole handled with care). The action scenes and set pieces are pretty good, and the overall pacing is spot on. Whilst the characters are generally quite stereotypical, the cast and directing is pretty good. All of this leads to a fun thriller that is a little more grounded in reality than your standard action fare.

 3.5/5

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The Verdict | A solid, entertaining reboot of this potentially huge franchise.
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One thought on “Film Review | Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

  1. It’s probably a 3/5 for me – the characters, dialogue and plot are just too ‘generic thriller 101’ to warrant a higher score. But I agree that the action set-pieces (from the restaurant scene onwards) are really well handled, the cast work hard to push their stock characters as far as they can and I like how the action isn’t too over-the-top to believe.

    A solid rather than spectacular start, but baby-steps, people. Baby steps.

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