Brian West

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review

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Spies, Russians, CIA, and Crazy Ivan!!!….Guess that means Jack’s Back..
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I wanted to love this movie. I really did. Having grown up reading Tom Clancy novels and watching the movies made from those stories, I missed seeing Jack Ryan on the big screen and the idea of a whole new set of movies really had gotten me excited. Unfortunately, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit forgets some of what made the character and his spy stories so great in the first place, and sadly only gives us an adequate movie instead of the great one that it had all the ingredients for.

With Shadow Recruit meant to be a reboot of the franchise, the story starts right at the beginning, smartly only updating Jack Ryan’s back story instead of trying to tell a brand new one. The film begins with Ryan(Chris Pine), still in college, finishing out his education at the London School of Economics. He soon gets news of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and like many young Americans, decides to join the military. We soon jump forward to Afghanistan and witness his fateful helicopter crash that will shape Ryan’s future. While in physical therapy recovering from his injuries, he meets Cathy(Keira Knightly), his future wife, and Thomas Harper(Kevin Costner), his future CIA handler. After being recruited in the CIA we jump forward again, this time ten years, Ryan his been planted inside a large Wall Street firm where he is able to use his genius level analysis skills to look for terrorists hiding money to use for future attacks. It’s here that Jack uncovers a potential terrorist plot and is shipped to Russia to investigate Viktor Cherevin(Kenneth Branagh, who also directed), a Russian Investor who wants to plunge America into another great depression. Jack Ryan must find a way to stop Cherevin, protect his soon to be wife(who doesn’t know Jack is in the CIA, so instead believes he’s having an affair, and decides to show up in Russia), and survive being promoted to full field agent by Harper before time runs out.
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If the summary above sounds rushed, a little over the top, and/or confusing, than you too have uncovered the biggest flaw with Shadow Recruit; the story. This is the first Jack Ryan movie not based on one of Tom Clancy’s novels, and it shows. At one point in the film Harper asks Ryan to explain what’s going on in a way that someone without a PHD can understand, I felt like Costner was also asking for the benefit of the audience, just encase anyone needed to catch up from the almost breakneck pace of the movie. This isn’t to say the story was necessarily a terrible one, it was just never well set up, or at times explained, with a lot of the information told and not shown. At a run time of only an hour and forty-five minutes, and considering how fast this movie moved, this might’ve been a case where an extra fifteen minutes or so of story set-up could’ve helped considerably. Even with all that said, the story isn’t bad enough to ruin the movie, it’s just not at the level one had come to expect from something that has Tom Clancy’s name attached to it.

The thing that really saved this movie for me though, was it’s great cast and fantastic director. Chris Pine is perfect in his role as Jack Ryan. He easily shifts from smart analyst to man of action, and carries the cool under pressure presence that would make previous Ryan’s proud. Wither he is using his brain to easily solve problems(almost to easily at times), or jumping head first into one of the many great action sequences throughout the movie, Pine is always believable. Pine really does have a chance to supplant Harrison as the better Jack Ryan if the series continues.jack-ryan-shadow-kenneth-branagh-image-c Keira Knightly also does a good job as Jack’s soon to be wife. She brings a believable reaction to a complicated relationship, positively contributes to the story, and doesn’t just become the damsel in distress that sometimes happens to Ryan’s wife. Kevin Costner also does another great job at playing Kevin Costner. He really only ever plays one character, lucky for him its a cool one. Rounding out the great cast is Kenneth Branagh, who pull double duties as the films bad guy and also it’s director. First I just want to say that I thought it was great that the bad guy was Russian, it was a great throwback to the Clancy novels and frankly I miss the good Russian villains I grew up with in the eighties and nineties. Branagh does a great job at making an almost comically villainous bad guy scary and believable. It takes talent to walk the line between being over the top bad or being Dr. Evil. I also cannot believe enough can be said about his ability as a director. It takes real skill to take a below average story and turn it into an enjoyable film.

I might not have loved this movie, but I did enjoy it. It’s a film that fans, old and new, may not love, but like me, can enjoy. And while you might not list this one as your favorites, it’s still a good addition to the Jack Ryan films. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit uses its great cast to give us a much needed update to a great character, and did just enough right that there’s a pretty good chance this wont be the last time we see Jack Ryan. Hopefully next time he show’s up though, he’ll bring a better story.

I give Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit 7.5/10 reasons I’m glad Jack’s back.

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