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New Release Review - Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Reboot of Tom Clancy's iconic hero.

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, David Paymer


Following the attacks of September 11th, economics student Jack Ryan (Pine) enlists in the military. 18 months later, while serving in Afghanistan, his helicopter is shot down and Ryan is shipped home with severe leg injuries. While recovering, with the aid of Doctor Cathy Muller (Knightley), Ryan is approached by CIA agent Thomas Harper (Costner). 10 years later, Ryan is employed by the agency himself, while working undercover for a Wall Street firm. After noticing some irregular financial activity by Russian billionaire Viktor Cherevin (Branagh), Ryan is sent to Moscow to investigate.
Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan character first appeared on screens in the shape of Alec Baldwin in 1990's The Hunt For Red October, only to age considerably two years later when Harrison Ford portrayed the now retired CIA analyst in Patriot Games and its 1994 sequel, Clear & Present Danger. The timeline was reset for 2002's The Sum of All Fears, which saw Ben Affleck assume the role. All four of those movies had been based on the late Clancy's books. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, however, is an original property, one that reboots the character entirely.
Branagh and his writers, Adam Cozad and David Koepp, reinvent Ryan as an all-American boy scout type and the handsome yet wide-eyed Pine is a perfect fit. Here, both Ryan and his fiance (Knightley) possess an innocent quality, in stark contrast to Costner's experienced and grizzled CIA superior, and Branagh's bitter, living on borrowed time, Russian oligarch. This new Ryan is set in a post 2008 world, where young people struggle to clean up the mess created by their elders.
With the movie opening on that infamous day in the late summer of 2001, we're fooled into expecting an exercise in flag-waving but, thankfully, Cozad and Koepp's script is far more nuanced and dares to draw parallels between the US and its long time Slavic enemy. At one point Ryan informs Cherevin he sustained an injury while serving in Afghanistan. "Me too," the Russian replies with a knowing smile. Ryan's superior, a welcome return to the screen for Costner in the first of several high profile 2014 roles, acknowledges the murky past of the CIA by admitting his first kill was an innocent woman.
Branagh's handling of action scenes is somewhat uninspired when judged against the kinetic action of the Bourne series but the film really comes alive in the interactions of the impressive central acting quartet he's assembled. We get four very different actors with very different styles but they bounce off each other brilliantly.
On the surface, JR:SR doesn't give us anything we haven't seen in the spy genre before (its plot owes much to Hitchcock's Torn Curtain) but it's a fun romp that manages to sneak in a small bit of political commentary without slowing down its story.
7/10


Eric Hillis

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