Film review of 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit'
Should have been left in the cold with the Red October
I confess, for my own woefully superficial reasons, this film was onto a loser before it had even started. Most avid filmgoers have at least one actor who turns any film into their own private endurance test. I have maybe four such actors and two of them are here. For whatever reason, I find Kenneth Branagh difficult to watch. It may be his lips, or his disconcerting lack of them (I told you my reasons were superficial!); it may be his tendency to cast himself in roles that seem wholly inappropriate (witness here his cod Russian accent: “You think this is game Meestor Ryan?”); or it may be that on some subliminal level he reminds me of myself. Either way, I find him toe-curlingly difficult to watch. Fortunately this doesn’t extend to him as a director. His interpretation of Frankenstein was masterful, save for his decision to cast himself in the titular role. I also enjoyed his campy Thor and his continuing affection for adapting the Bard leaves little to criticise.
Here Branagh directs what is presumably intended to be the first in a new franchise, mirroring the likes of cash cow Bourne and, dare I say it, Bond. Having already seen novelist Tom Clancy’s alter ego, Jack Ryan, portrayed by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt For Red October, Ben Affleck in Sum Of All Fears and most memorably by Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, this latest attempt plays out as a sort of prequel to those films despite the contemporary setting (á la the recent Casino Royale). Branagh has attempted to reboot the character for a post September 11 audience, which is precisely where this film kicks off.
A young Ryan (Pine), studying in London, is on a university campus when there’s a commotion around the TV – he witnesses the now infamous planes fly into the World Trade Center and vows to avenge his country.
Enrolling in the US Marine Corps, his mission of vengeance doesn’t go according to plan when early on his first tour his chopper is shot down in Afghanistan and he is (temporarily) unable to walk. Back on US soil, after being nursed to health by Dr Catherine soon-to-be-Ryan (Knightley), he is recruited by the CIA, in the form of Kevin Costner.
His mission: to infiltrate Wall Street as a banker and sniff out terrorist activity by monitoring secret accounts. What is initially sold to him as an office job swiftly switches to life or death fieldwork on his first excursion to Moscow. Soon his life, his country and everything he loves is at stake. Sounds exciting right?
To be fair, on occasion, it is suspenseful. Pine handles the material well, once again proving himself to be a capable action lead (after his two stints in the captain’s chair for JJ Abram’s Star Trek), but also brings a crucial vulnerability to the table that lends the proceedings an air of unpredictability that serves to underpin this new Jack Ryan’s rookie status. Costner’s casting further cements his reputation for reliable stoicism and provides some gravitas to the proceedings.
It is only Knightley, as Ryan’s love interest Cathy, who threatens to truly upend things. If it weren’t for her excellent collaborations with director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice), her repeated employment would be baffling. Here, her mannered, self-conscious performance is the weakest link among a uniformly dry cast. Pine and Costner, much like the film itself, function well enough but there’s little to recommend in what is ultimately, a misguided, by-the-numbers attempt to revisit a Cold War thriller.
Even those who enjoy the ride will immediately forget it on exiting the foyer.
Jack Ryan:Shadow Recruit (15)
Park Bio, Falkoner