The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

January 25, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ is exciting prequel

Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — A growing trend in Hollywood these days is to reinvent long dead franchises. Most famous was Chris Nolan’s recreation of the “Batman” franchise.  J.J. Abrams has been very creative with the new “Star Trek” franchise. Now, director Kenneth Branagh has gotten in the act with “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” a regeneration and updating of Tom Clancy’s immensely successful spy/thriller series of books, made even more noteworthy by a four film franchise in the 1980s and 1990s.

On Sept. 11, 2001, as the collapsing World Trade Center forever changes our world, college student Jack Ryan, overwhelmed with patriotism, enlists in the U.S. Marines. A year later, he is seriously wounded in Afghanistan.  He falls in love with his physical therapist, Cathy Mullereven as he is secretly recruited by the CIA.  Time passes.  As an analyst for the CIA, he sees a disturbing pattern with large sums of money held by a Russian company; he fears a currency manipulation is underway and is sent undercover to Moscow to ferret out the secret purpose of the Russians.  But the Russians are one step ahead of him, converting their accounts offshore.  Then his “analyst” status is brutally converted to “operational” when an attempt is made on his life. Complicating matters more, Cathy, suspicious of Jack’s secretive behavior and ignorant of his CIA ties, suddenly appears in Moscow. A dangerous game of cat and mouse ensues as Jack attempts to breach the Russian security system while the Russians try to eliminate the threat to their covert operation.

The cast does a more than competent job.  Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) portrays Jack Ryan as  an earnest young man in slightly over his head.  Keira Knightley (“Pride and Prejudice”) as Cathy disguises her English accent well, in a nuanced role that balances her own surreptitious behavior with that of Jack.  Kevin Costner (“Swing Vote”) plays Kevin Costner as Jack’s CIA contact Harper: a flat-voiced, dead-panned actor that is perfectly suited for this role.  Kenneth Branagh (“Valkyrie”) plays the Russian villain Viktor Cherevin in the most preposterous role in the film: an exuberantly wealthy, dastardly clever, thoroughly greedy, voraciously decadent, and cold blooded killer with a reptilian personality.  

Never mind that all the plots don’t really coalesce, just enjoy the chemistry of the cast.  This is a sumptuously-filmed paean to spy films, with a subtly scenery-chewing villain (Branagh), a stoic patriot (Costner), a beautiful damsel-in-distress (Knightley), and a brilliant hero (Pine).

Branagh, in fine double-agent mode, also jumps behind the camera and directs, adding the spy-thriller to his growing list of ecumenical films.  His career began with Shakespearean drama in 1989 with “Henry V,” expanding to comedy with “Much Ado About Nothing” in 1993 (still two of the finest cinematic Shakespeares). Then he added a Hitchcock-like psychological thriller with “Dead Again” (1991), a classic horror story with “Frankenstein” (1994), a Monty Pythonesque British comedy with “A Midwinter’s Tale” (1995, a Broadway style who-dunnit with “Sleuth” (2007).  Although Shakespeare is still his mainstay (also doing “Hamlet,” Love’s Labour’s Lost,” and “As You Like It”) he has expanded his repertoire recently by recreating the Jack Kirby-drawn world of Marvel Comics’ “Thor,” (2011) before turning to this spy-thriller.  “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is solid if unspectacular from a directorial perspective, with lush cinematography (Moscow never looked so Manhattan-like), crisp editing, decent pace, a clever tongue-in-cheek wit (essential to spy films), and solid performances from the cast.  

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is an enjoyable film from a not-to-be-typecast director, banking on archetypes in the genre and the marketability of an established film (and book) franchise.

2.5 Stars

1 star= avoid this boring mess of a movie at all costs.  Reading the dictionary is more entertaining.

2 stars= if you're in the right mood or if the subject matter appeals to you, you may like this film; or it is uneven, at times entertaining and believable and at other times sophomoric.  If you've got nothing else to do, it may be worth the price of admission (at least a matinee).

3 stars= this is a generally good movie that most people will enjoy.  If you're looking for an entertaining couple of hours, spend it here and you won't be disappointed.

4 stars= don't miss this film!  I don't care if you have time or not, make the time, because this movie is terrific.