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Sunday, January 19, 2014

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT REVIEW


ABOUT THE MOVIE:

Tom Clancy’s most iconic character, Jack Ryan, returns to the big screen in this taut suspense thriller. When a global terrorist network is about to be activated, brilliant CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Chris Pine, “Star Trek”) has no choice but to become operational. Yet when everyone who could stop the impending international catastrophe has something to lose or something to hide, who can Ryan possibly trust?

Caught between his tight-lipped handler Harper (Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner), his in-the-dark fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) and a fearsome Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh), Jack must confront a new reality where secrets and lies are everywhere, yet the fate of millions rests on his finding the truth. With the urgency of a lit fuse, he’s in a race to stay one step ahead of everyone around him.

WHAT IS GOOD/BAD ABOUT THE MOVIE:

In general, Shadow Recruit offers an adequate storyline, one that is par-for-the-course in the Jack Ryan series. It’s not the smartest or most engaging premise and Branagh includes a few bizarre scenes that, while allowing for interesting character “moments,” are somewhat at odds with the larger plot. Still, the film attempts to be more brainy than some of its modern spy contemporaries, prioritizing plot over improbable action sequences (of which there are few).

Since Shadow Recruit isn’t about nuclear warfare or a new doomsday technology, it’s about manipulating fragile financial markets, it is important that viewers understand what’s actually at stake. To his credit, Pine manages to ensure that any rumination on global economics, financial trading, or terrorist patterns is interesting – even if it’s not always easy for the audience, along with some of the characters, to make the same connections. The actor is a solid as well as entertaining (although slightly generic) lead this time, conveying both Ryan’s inexperience and inherent attention to detail, which gets the job done but isn’t especially fresh or nuanced.
While Keira Knightley’s performance as Cathy (Ryan’s girlfriend) in the film is fine, the character’s inclusion is mostly an unneeded distraction throughout the majority of the movie – falling into one contrived setup after another (suspicious girlfriend, distraction for the villain, or damsel in distress) without really adding any further understanding to the Jack Ryan character or the pair’s relationship. Strangely, Cathy actually sheds more light on Branagh’s Cherevin than she does Ryan.

In fact, Cherevin is easily one of the most captivating elements of Shadow Recruit. Branagh gives an engrossing performance in the role but he also ensures that the layered Cherevin is utilized in scenes that both reveal details about the villain and reflect larger ideological juxtapositions. Kevin Costner rounds-out the main cast as William Harper – a role that balances dry humor with no-nonsense authority. Aside from serving as a babysitter for Ryan, Costner isn’t given a very wide range of material to explore, but the veteran actor’s performance is still sharp.

Ultimately, the film is an adequate and enjoyable spy drama – albeit one that will not deliver the same explosive action set-pieces and mind-bending plots that audiences will have enjoyed in competing modern espionage dramas. The story and villain succeed in setting-up Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan for future adventures in the Tom Clancy universe but Shadow Recruit, as a standalone movie, is short on notable moments or characters. There’s reason to believe that future filmmakers will be able to develop engrossing Jack Ryan adventures with the assembled cast but Shadow Recruit falls short of realizing the character’s full franchise potential – resulting in a good but not particularly groundbreaking spy movie effort.

OVERALL GRADE: B-


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