Kyle J. Steenblik

Kenneth Branagh masterfully reboots Jack Ryan

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a gripping action thriller, that had me riveted and through adrenaline pumping clichés, and that’s good.   

Jack RyanI thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  It was a great way to start the year, and I am glad they pushed the release back.  The holiday openings would have buried this.  I’ve always enjoyed a good political action thriller.  The problem is, there are desperately few good political action thrillers.  They are difficult to get right, and keep interesting and exciting, without being overbearing.  I am so very happy to say, this film managed to strike a fantastic balance across these spectrums, and there is one person to thank for that.

Kenneth Branagh is a master of this craft.  He can tell a story using film in a way that causes you to say, “Who is this Kenneth person and when did he get so good” Truth is he has always been good, he is just, somehow, getting better.  He should no longer surprise me with excellence, yet, somehow, he does.  Shadow Recruit could really best be described as a revival of the American James Bond, of which we have several.  This film completely reboots the character from the previous representations, which is good, because that Jack Ryan would be retiring now.  We can still draw some parallels and comparisons, because that is what we like to do.  So I will say, right off the bat, Chris Pine is almost, almost, as good a Jack Ryan as Harrison Ford was.  The only thing he needs is some time to mature.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit follows the development of CIA agent Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), beginning with his experiencing the attacks of September 11th while completing his doctorate at university in the U.K.  He abandons his education, joins the Marines, and is deployed to Afghanistan where, as a Lieutenant, he is seriously wounded in a helicopter crash.  Two things happen while he is undergoing physical therapy, he meets his future wife, Cathy Muller(Keira Knightley), and is recruited into the CIA by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner).  During his covert operation gathering intelligence through analyzing financial transactions for a wall street firm he uncovers a potential terrorist threat which could lead to the second great American depression, linked to the Russian businessman Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh).  Once Ryan arrives in Moscow to assess the threat events escalate and he is suddenly promoted to a fully active field agent in a desperate race to stop Chrevin.

I think I gushed enough about Branagh’s directing on this movie.  Well, I think I gushed enough to get the point across, I certainly could go on, but I won’t.  Instead, I will gush, a little, about his acting.  He is such a charismatic performer I love when he plays the villain, and here, he place a fine specimen of evil.  It was a chilling performance, although he did play dangerously close to the edge of a clichéd satirical villain.  He didn’t go over the edge,  I think his character forced the edge to move back a foot or two when he approached.  As I said, a master of his craft, few could pull that character off without looking like Boris chasing after squirrel.

Chris Pine did well, I believe he pulls Jack Ryan off better than he pulls of Kirk.  I do think he needs to mature a little in his performance to really nail the character, but he isn’t far off.  Fortunately I think the franchise will pick up some momentum so I think he will have a chance to really bring Jack Ryan to life.  His biggest setback was the way he played smart.  It came off a littler rehearsed, the answers were coming out but you couldn’t see the gears moving.  It was the slightest bit unsatisfying.  Jack Ryan is a very bright character, but no so bright, that he doesn’t have to work for the  answers, we didn’t get to see the work here.

This is really the first movie I can honestly say I enjoyed Keira Knightley.  She isn’t a bad actress, I just think she hasn’t really been taxed as a performer.  She was good in Pride and Prejudice, but her performance there was more reflexive recitation of Jane Austin, than really bringing a character to life.  Here you can genuinely see her creating a unique character.  There were some stumbling, a few slips of the accent, but it was a passable American.  She ended up playing a amicable and relatable charecer that was easy to enjoy, and care for her wellbeing.  I can’t quite count myself as a fan, but if she keeps up this work, I could be convinced.

Kevin Coster is something of an enigma to me.  I am never sure if I just like him, or his performances.  He never really steps very far outside his established skill sets.  Yet, he always manages to reliably deliver a solid performance.  Yet solid, isn’t always the most interesting.  He was a vital character, and I did enjoy the way he played with Pine.  I just look at every performance from Costner, as remarkably similar, with minor variations.  Always solid, almost universal, I wish I could say great.


This movie, is a great way to shake off the holidays, and escape the winter.  It should get the blood pumping, and leave you feeling good, and wanting more.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – 8 out of 10 – a surprisingly exciting political action thriller to start your year.

Opens January 17, 2014
1 hr 45 min
PG-13 | Intense Action, Brief Strong Language and Sequences of Violence
Cast: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Peter Andersson, Kenneth Branagh
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Genres: Action/Adventure, Suspense/Thriller

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