Tuesday 27 July 2021

Movie Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

A spy action thriller, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is competently predictable. A good cast and surface gloss only partially obscure the inherent lack of creativity.

College student Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is working towards an economics degree when terrorists attack the US on September 11, 2001. He enlists and serves in Afghanistan, where he is severely wounded in a helicopter crash. Back in the US, medical student Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) helps in his rehabilitation, and they fall in love. The CIA's Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) recruits Jack as an undercover financial analyst to trace terrorist funding sources.

Ten years later, Jack is living with Cathy but his secretive activities strain their relationship. After Russia loses a key United Nations vote, Jack uncovers shady financial transactions linked to the conglomerate headed by oligarch Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). He travels to Moscow and concludes Cherevin is plotting a terrorist attack followed by a massive dollar sell-off to cripple the US economy. With Cathy unexpectedly showing up in Moscow and assassins already on his trail, Jack has his hands full.

An attempted re-boot of the Tom Clancy-created Jack Ryan franchise with Pine stepping into the role previously occupied by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck, Shadow Recruit is merely serviceable. Kenneth Branagh directs (in addition to playing Cherevin) and provides a polished, often glistening aesthetic, but with the Bond, Bourne, and Hunt franchises redefining genre depth and artistry, Shadow Recruit suffers from a nothing-new-here feel and struggles for relevance.

Pine is fine in the role, mixing charisma with determination and flashes of anxiety to capture the psyche of a cerebral analyst thrown into the operational spy theatre's deep end. But he is not helped by a barely-there plot, in which nothing is known about the planned terrorist attack until the final act. The threat to sell dollars on the financial markets is always going to fail the challenge of creating tension from techno-talk and computer screens filled with so much gibberish. Girlfriend Cathy being drafted into a CIA operation at short notice provides further evidence of flaky scripting.

The film's centrepiece is better. Jack, Cathy and Cherevin attend a fancy dinner and engage in a battle of wits, subterfuge and seduction, with Harper orchestrating support from the wings. Here writers Adam Cozad and David Koepp assemble a worthwhile evening, leveraging the tension between Jack and Cathy, east/west cultural rub points, and Cherevin's deep-rooted character traits.

The rest of the action speeds downhill, the usual hostage-taking and frantic car chases leaving no impression. On a plane ride back to the US, Jack, Cathy and Harper plus a small team of analysts fill in the conspiracy gaps on-the-fly (literally), in a scene intended to demonstrate connect-the-dots analytical work but in fact demeaning the process with cinematic shortcuts.

In a movie world where other spies get more elaborate resources, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has a lot to learn, and not a lot of time to do it.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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