Friday, January 17, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT: Chris Pine, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Costner, Kiera Knightley, directed by Kenneth Branagh (106 min.)

You aren’t going to find anything new in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the latest Hollywood reboot attempt of a dormant franchise.  We’ve all seen Jack Ryan, the Tom Clancy super agent/diplomat, portrayed throughout the years by a total of three different actors, dating all the way back to 1987 when Alec Baldwin brought Ryan to life in The Hunt for Red October.  Harrison Ford defined the role in Patriot Games (still the best) and Clear and Present Danger, while Ben Affleck flattened the franchise with the lifeless The Sum of All Fears.  Now it is time for actor number four, as Chris Pine steps into the Ryan role with plenty of physical presence and arguably just enough screen aplomb to pull off such a no nonsense hero.  Jack Ryan is no revelation of a film, but with one important caveat, this film can be enjoyed on a certain level.  That caveat being… it’s January.

Kenneth Branagh directs a script most thriller fans could write with their eyes closed, where we see the “origin story” of Jack Ryan through a series of pre-credit snippets.  We see him in college in London, then enrolling in the Marines after 9/11 only to be shot out of the sky and suffer a crippling spinal cord injury.  This, however, allows Ryan to meet his future wife, Cathy, played by Kiera Knightley who is slightly better used than one would expect in a film like this.  Around the same time, Ryan also meets with Harper, the shadowy figure of the film played by Kevin Costner.  Harper liked Ryan’s dissertation and wants him to join the CIA as an analyst working in secret on Wall Street.

Fast-forward ten years and Ryan, working comfortably in anonymity in downtown Manhattan, notices some account discrepancies that help get the plot ramped up.  These suspicious bank accounts send Ryan to Moscow, where he meets our appropriately stoic, serious, and (of course) afflicted villain, Viktor Cherevin, played by Branagh himself.  Cherevin, who is also (of course) eccentric and filthy rich, is in charge of operating some scam against America that will send the economy into a downward spiral the likes of which we may never recover.   We get many ominous lines of dialogue from Ryan and Harper, like “this will be the second Great Depression,” and so on.  That’s the only way to really lay out the plot, because the details are insignificant.

We all know how the puzzle fits together with a movie like Jack Ryan.  There is a quick set up and back story, a love interest, a shady mentor, a flamboyant (and foreign) villain, and a whole mess of action scenes.  We must also have several swooping exterior shots of buildings and cities with title cards reading “Manhattan” or “United Nations Building.”  Typically, this formula winds up with the hero saving the day at the last second in some form or another.  The action scenes are well crafted here, but not terribly original.  There is the “time crunch” scene where one character must divert another character while yet another character must steal something within a set time.  Then there is the car chase.  Sprinkle in a few hand-to-hand battles and some misdirection and voila!  You have an action movie.

It may sound like I am picking on the movie, and I suppose I am a little.  It’s more like I am just pointing out the reasons the picture was released in January.  That being said, I wasn’t bored with the film.  Pine has room to grow as a screen power, but I enjoyed him in the title role.  He doesn’t have the emotional strength of Harrison Ford’s portrayal, or the intensity of Baldwin, but he is leaps and bounds above what Affleck turned in.  I tried to imagine Pine placed in the role in Red October, and I think he would do well.  The issue is really the script, a paint by numbers factory piece that was co-written by David Koepp, who has shown so much more with his brilliant writing in something like Mission: Impossible. 

Jack Ryan is a nice little thriller, but one that will vanish as quickly as it appeared.  It’s January fluff, and plenty of escapist fun for an hour forty-five.  But is it a good jumping off point for a franchise reboot?  I don’t really know if we need more of these movies because, honestly, there are richer and more interesting characters out there.  Ryan is all business, little pleasure, so why not go see Bond instead?