Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) is, on paper at least, a film which shouldn’t work, and certainly not as well as it does.
Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), unknown to even his nearest and dearest, is a secret agent. Everyone, including his long-suffering girlfriend Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) believes he is an ordinary (even slightly boring) Wall Street financial analyst. In reality however he works undercover for the CIA, spotting international financial irregularities which could provide signs of worldwide terrorist involvement. When Ryan discovers a potentially hazardous situation arising within the Russian financial sector with possibly cataclysmic ramifications on a global scale, his CIA boss Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) sends him to Moscow to find out what’s going on. Once there he comes face to face with the financier and business man Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh), a Russian patriot who will stop at nothing to right the wrongs he believes his countrymen have suffered at the hands of the corrupt and decadent West.
Analyse Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and a number of elements stand out which on initial inspection jar yet, within the film as a whole, blend in to the extent that by the end you’re not conscious of them. It’s always hard for a film which is part of a ‘franchise’ (as the Jack Ryan series is fast becoming) to make its mark. However this one – the fifth based on Tom Clancy’s ‘James Bond’ like secret agent – does just that. The fact that it is an intended reboot of the series taking the story back to how Ryan initially becomes a government agent, could have played against it – here we go again with a major studio attempting to inject fresh life into a dead cinematic corpse. However, having watched the film, this is one of the factors which works in its favour. Whether you haven’t seen any of the previous films (or, like me, you have but can’t remember anything significant about them) or are a fan of the other adventures, doesn’t really matter. This outing has a premise which is fresh, relevant and stands alone without requiring the viewer to understand where it falls within the larger story arc, as with so many modern film franchises.
Then there’s the potentially disastrous minefield of the film’s cast. The previous adventures have seen the character of Ryan taken on by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, and included such supporting cast luminaries as Sean Connery, Sean Bean, Morgan Freeman and Anne Archer. This time round though the cast, on the face of it, appears weak. Pine may be a suitably macho and rugged yet smoulderingly attractive enough lead to appeal to both male and female audiences, whilst Branagh (who also directs the film) has the gravitas at this point in his career that he can frankly do whatever he likes and get away with it. However Costner’s glory days in films such as The Untouchables (1987) and The Bodyguard (1992), if being brutally honest, are long gone – it’s hard for an actor (even an Oscar winning one like Costner) to recover from such financial clangers as Waterworld (1995) and The Postman (1997). As for Knightley? Though undoubtedly striking, she often seems out of her depth in anything other than period pieces which require her to do little more than look icily beautiful on screen. Here however Costner and her manage to pull it off supplying the support – both mentally and emotionally – which Pine’s character requires to get him through an increasingly bewildering and life threatening series of situations.
A pleasant surprise within Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the subject matter around which its story is spun. The world of international high finance and Wall Street double dealing may not, on the face of it, sound like the basis for a potentially seat gripping boys own adventure. However the film manages to use this field effectively, providing a story with not only stunning high tech settings, in both Moscow and New York, but also a theme which is relevant and recognisable to toady’s money obsessed culture.
Ultimately, all other aspects aside, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is fun, which is after all what this kind of film should be. Forget that the potentially explosive finale is something of a damp squib compared with the buildup – what may have made for a more visually arresting climax could, on reflection, probably not have been done in our current politically and historically sensitive age. This is the kind of movie which pulls the viewer in, chews them up and spits them out, leaving them on a high and itching to find out where their hero may end up with the next instalment.
24th January 2014 (UK)
Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh