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Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jan. 17, 2014by: Eric Walkuski

PLOT: The origin story of Jack Ryan, who is forced to go from CIA financial analyst to spy when a Russian banker plans a terrorist strike on New York.

REVIEW: All those who lament the continuing trend of reboots being "dark and gritty" will certainly find the quaint old-fashionedness of JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT refreshing. Though it brings the Tom Clancy character into the modern age, the Kenneth Branagh film is a workmanlike effort that, at least in terms of texture and spirit, feels very much like the Harrison Ford Jack Ryan movies of the 90s, when Cold War paranoia was still heavy in our minds. This is the kind of movie that puts a title card saying "New York" on the screen while showing a shot of New York. It's not too flashy, it's not overwhelmed with gadgets or technical jargon or death-defying stunts; it more or less is a standard issue espionage thriller.

But this quality also holds JACK RYAN back; because the script isn't quite clean or clever enough to elevate it to a place that makes it feel like it's revitalizing the genre, it often feel a bit rusty. It's like slapping a new coat of paint on an old van.

SHADOW RECRUIT's first act basically fast-forwards through more than a decade of the life of Ryan, played by sturdy Chris Pine: he witnesses the events of 9/11 from London and joins the military; he's injured in a helicopter crash and meets the love of his life (Keira Knightley) in a hospital; he's recruited by a veteran CIA operative (Kevin Costner) to work undercover for the agency as a financial analyst on Wall Street (where in reality he'll be looking for money going toward terrorist groups). Years later, he's shacked up with Knightley - who still doesn't know what he actually does - he's enlisted by Costner to travel to Russia in order to investigate the schemings of a banker (Branagh) whom the agency believes is involved with some shady activity.

And they're quite right about that. Branagh's Viktor Cherevin is a Bond-esque villain looking to topple the U.S. economy while simultaneously initiating an attack on New York, the ultimate goal being America's plunge into a second Great Depression. His motives are sketchily laid out (he's still nursing wounds - physical and mental - from the Soviet war in Afghanistan), but all we need to know is that he's the drawling, cold-hearted counterpart to our fresh-faced Boy Scout Jack Ryan and he wants to "make America bleed". That's actual dialogue, and I can only assume this is the 300th movie to feature that very line.

The Jack Ryan series (this is the fifth) has always dealt in escapist entertainment for while remaining fairly grounded. They have earnestness in spades, and maintain a healthy amount of tension by making the stakes appear decidedly high; it's always a global catastrophe in the offing, and more often than not the U.S. has the biggest bullseye on its head. But JACK RYAN dispatches credibility early on and often asks too much from its audience. We must first of all suspend all disbelief when it comes to Jack and his significant other; their relationship is so forced and lacking in chemistry that we're left to contemplate why she even wants to stick with him after she wonders if he's cheating on her. (No, he's just been lying to you for ten years about what he does for a living.) The movie then forces Knightley to become an active member of the espionage plot; as if the CIA would trust the fate of the country in the hands of a woman who just learned ten minutes ago that her husband has an occupation which requires him to kill people if necessary. Similarly, we're supposed to believe she handles like a pro a life and death situation which necessitates she lie to a potential mass murderer's face, even while her world would likely be shattering around her. Eye-rolling plot machinations like this kill a movie that needs your cooperation to be taken along for the ride.

The action/suspense sequences fare no better in the plausibility department, nor are they particularly exciting. Jack Ryan, you see, is the smartest guy in the room, always apparently two steps ahead of everyone else. Is there anything he can't do? Not really. Chris Pine brings humanity to the character because he's a likable screen presence, but as he's written, Jack is like Sherlock Holmes and Ethan Hunt rolled into one. There isn't much tension if we think the hero can't be bested. Wait until you see the utterly ridiculous sequence aboard an airplane wherein Ryan connects the dots of Viktor's conspiracy so fast his effort should be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. There's barely any learning curve for Ryan; even in the early going, when he's set upon by a man who is presumably a master assassin, he gets the upper hand without too much worry.

Branagh also falls back onto the now-standard jittery camera and indecipherable editing during the more intense action scenes, which I suppose is where JACK RYAN most resembles more modern action cinema. A chase through downtown Manhattan is almost impossible to make heads or tails out of, as is the aforementioned fight with a killer in a hotel bathroom. Is it too much trouble to just pull the camera back a bit and hold on a shot for more than two seconds?

Pine is a good, if not really outstanding, Ryan. He doesn't have the cocky swagger of his James Kirk in the rebooted STAR TREK franchise, but he's a confident and capable actor with an effortless "everyman" appeal that suits the character. Branagh, sporting a very theatrical Russian accent (would you expect any less) is a fine adversary while the movie's going on, but there's nothing about him that will stick with you when it's over. Knightley is lovely to look at and plays the role with charm and grace, although almost every scene with her borders on the farfetched. (Not her fault, of course.) And it's certainly nice seeing Kevin Costner take on the mentor figure here; his William Harper is a calculating, sometimes cold customer, bringing a cynicism to the proceedings that is welcome. In the next JACK RYAN - for there will surely be another - it would behoove the filmmakers to utilize as much Costner as they can.

Source: JoBlo.com

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2:31PM on 01/19/2014

The movie had too much stupidity.

The bad guy has a henchman try to kill Jack before he meets him, but after he does meet him he says he's dangerous...So he didn't think he was dangerous before he met him, but he tried to have him killed....That makes perfect sense.
The bad guy has a henchman try to kill Jack before he meets him, but after he does meet him he says he's dangerous...So he didn't think he was dangerous before he met him, but he tried to have him killed....That makes perfect sense.
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+2
2:43PM on 01/18/2014
This review is a little harsh, I thought the movie was pretty good. I'd give it a 6.5 or 7 out of 10. It's a great starting point for a new franchise for Paramount.
This review is a little harsh, I thought the movie was pretty good. I'd give it a 6.5 or 7 out of 10. It's a great starting point for a new franchise for Paramount.
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3:09AM on 01/18/2014
While i was initially stoked to hear that another Jack Ryan movie was coming out, the trailers never really got me interested in wanting to check it out. Every review I've read confirmed that this is just a Bourne clone. I can understand moving Bond a little closer to that spectrum of action, but Ryan was never that kind of action hero. He was the kind of guy who really was a desk jockey who found himself in shitty situations and fought his way out of it. What's with this trend that assuming
While i was initially stoked to hear that another Jack Ryan movie was coming out, the trailers never really got me interested in wanting to check it out. Every review I've read confirmed that this is just a Bourne clone. I can understand moving Bond a little closer to that spectrum of action, but Ryan was never that kind of action hero. He was the kind of guy who really was a desk jockey who found himself in shitty situations and fought his way out of it. What's with this trend that assuming that just because someone was military, that they are automatically a bad ass? Next, we're going to have a navy journalist take down baddies with a pen a la Jason Bourne.
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+2
3:02PM on 01/17/2014

Somettimes I disagree with your reviews, but in all reality this one is pretty spot on.

I saw it and was pretty disappointed. Chris Pine isn't bad, in fact none of the actors are bad but the writing doesn't give them anything more than silly, shallow characters to play. It kind of reminded me of the Star Wars prequels in that A) you have a ton of talented actors packed into one film, but the material is so weak that almost everyone (Branagh's villain being the notable exception) comes out looking badly. And B) The studio was either so confident in the brand name recognition that
I saw it and was pretty disappointed. Chris Pine isn't bad, in fact none of the actors are bad but the writing doesn't give them anything more than silly, shallow characters to play. It kind of reminded me of the Star Wars prequels in that A) you have a ton of talented actors packed into one film, but the material is so weak that almost everyone (Branagh's villain being the notable exception) comes out looking badly. And B) The studio was either so confident in the brand name recognition that they didn't feel like they had to give anything more than a mediocre effort, or they just truly do not understand what separates the Green Lanterns from The Dark Knights and the Casino Royales from the Shadow Recruits. A huge missed opportunity.
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+0
1:30PM on 01/17/2014

I Gotta Say

I really enjoyed it. I didn't think Knightley was a good fit, but if they're wanting to reboot this franchise, this was a good start.
I really enjoyed it. I didn't think Knightley was a good fit, but if they're wanting to reboot this franchise, this was a good start.
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12:54PM on 01/17/2014
I think it's sad how desperate the studio is for 'brand recognition' to include 'Jack Ryan' in the title. The previous films did pretty well and they weren't called Jack Ryan: The Hunt For Red October, Jack Ryan: Patriot Games; ect. I'll probably never see this.
I think it's sad how desperate the studio is for 'brand recognition' to include 'Jack Ryan' in the title. The previous films did pretty well and they weren't called Jack Ryan: The Hunt For Red October, Jack Ryan: Patriot Games; ect. I'll probably never see this.
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7:59PM on 01/17/2014
Amen!
Amen!
10:46AM on 01/17/2014
Great review. I would still like to check it out, but I may wait until it's on video.
Great review. I would still like to check it out, but I may wait until it's on video.
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8:38AM on 01/17/2014
Well, that's disappointing. I was hoping for at least a 7. I have a feeling this movie isn't going to do so well in the theaters. I don't watch TV on the regular so I don't know how much they have been promoting this movie but I really didn't start seeing anything until a few weeks ago. I like Chris Pine & Kevin Costner so I still hope the movie does well.
Well, that's disappointing. I was hoping for at least a 7. I have a feeling this movie isn't going to do so well in the theaters. I don't watch TV on the regular so I don't know how much they have been promoting this movie but I really didn't start seeing anything until a few weeks ago. I like Chris Pine & Kevin Costner so I still hope the movie does well.
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2:03AM on 01/17/2014
Personally I like the feel of the film, and while the Russian angle has been done to death it actually fits well in this film. I agree Pine was very good as well Kevin Costner was great as well. For those who are wondering about the IMAX, well don't even bother. It was converted IMAX, thus only the audio is better. Doesn't add anything much to the video quality. I would give the film about a 7 out of 10.
Personally I like the feel of the film, and while the Russian angle has been done to death it actually fits well in this film. I agree Pine was very good as well Kevin Costner was great as well. For those who are wondering about the IMAX, well don't even bother. It was converted IMAX, thus only the audio is better. Doesn't add anything much to the video quality. I would give the film about a 7 out of 10.
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11:03AM on 01/17/2014
actually I find the IMAX DMR conversion adds a lot to the visual quality. I saw Cloud Atlas and Transformers: Dark of the Moon both in regular theatres and then IMAX, and it felt so much more clear vivid and vibrant in IMAX, even more colourful
actually I find the IMAX DMR conversion adds a lot to the visual quality. I saw Cloud Atlas and Transformers: Dark of the Moon both in regular theatres and then IMAX, and it felt so much more clear vivid and vibrant in IMAX, even more colourful
8:04PM on 01/17/2014
Dark of the Moon was actually shot in IMAX. Never watched Cloud Atlas in theaters so I can't comment.
Dark of the Moon was actually shot in IMAX. Never watched Cloud Atlas in theaters so I can't comment.
12:17PM on 01/20/2014
No DOTM was filmed (partially) in 3D, but there were no IMAX cameras used. It did use the IMAX DMR conversion and was then released in IMAX 3D though. IMAX cameras were used to film 10 minutes or so of footage from Revenge of the Fallen though (I recall the forest battle and the scene with the giant 'Constructocon' or whatever changing aspect ratios).
No DOTM was filmed (partially) in 3D, but there were no IMAX cameras used. It did use the IMAX DMR conversion and was then released in IMAX 3D though. IMAX cameras were used to film 10 minutes or so of footage from Revenge of the Fallen though (I recall the forest battle and the scene with the giant 'Constructocon' or whatever changing aspect ratios).
1:50AM on 01/17/2014
I liked it more than Eric did. I'd say this is conventional, but not to a fault. Sure, you've seen it all before, but Chris Pine is a decent Jack Ryan (better than Affleck at any rate), Costner is a good mentor figure as William Harper and Kenneth Branagh is solid both behind the camera and as the most old-school Russian movie villain we've had in a while. Definitely could've been worse, and I was entertained.
I liked it more than Eric did. I'd say this is conventional, but not to a fault. Sure, you've seen it all before, but Chris Pine is a decent Jack Ryan (better than Affleck at any rate), Costner is a good mentor figure as William Harper and Kenneth Branagh is solid both behind the camera and as the most old-school Russian movie villain we've had in a while. Definitely could've been worse, and I was entertained.
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2:56AM on 01/18/2014
The bench mark for "good" with Jack Ryan is Alec Baldwin. "Great" is Harrison Ford. Ben Affleck shouldn't be the benchmark here.
The bench mark for "good" with Jack Ryan is Alec Baldwin. "Great" is Harrison Ford. Ben Affleck shouldn't be the benchmark here.
10:35AM on 01/18/2014
I definitely agree. That being said, Affleck's was the most recent take on the character. I guess it's like comparing Christian Bale's Batman to George Clooney's, because that was the immediate predecessor in terms of big screen incarnations.
I definitely agree. That being said, Affleck's was the most recent take on the character. I guess it's like comparing Christian Bale's Batman to George Clooney's, because that was the immediate predecessor in terms of big screen incarnations.
4:07AM on 01/19/2014
Fair enough. Still, I'm holding out for RedBox.
Fair enough. Still, I'm holding out for RedBox.
1:40AM on 01/17/2014
"He doesn't have the cocky swagger of his James Kirk in the rebooted STAR TREK franchise" - I'm relieved.
"He doesn't have the cocky swagger of his James Kirk in the rebooted STAR TREK franchise" - I'm relieved.
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1:28AM on 01/17/2014
Saw it on Wednesday, would probably rate a 6/10. Its better than The Sum of All Fears but doesn't touch the Ford or Baldwin iterations. Chances are if this doesn't strike a chord with audiences, they won't make another. I wouldn't care either way.
Saw it on Wednesday, would probably rate a 6/10. Its better than The Sum of All Fears but doesn't touch the Ford or Baldwin iterations. Chances are if this doesn't strike a chord with audiences, they won't make another. I wouldn't care either way.
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1:06AM on 01/17/2014
Harison FORD!
Alec BALDWIN!






but no Ben Affleck. Strange since out of the 3 he's the most relevant.
Harison FORD!
Alec BALDWIN!






but no Ben Affleck. Strange since out of the 3 he's the most relevant.
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9:02PM on 01/17/2014
He's also much younger...
He's also much younger...
12:52AM on 01/17/2014
Was hoping for a higher score. Still excited to see it.
Was hoping for a higher score. Still excited to see it.
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12:46AM on 01/17/2014
Tom Clancy is rolling in his grave. Well, this seems on par with Sum of All Fears. Time to rewatch Clear and Present Danger along with The Hunt for Red October
Tom Clancy is rolling in his grave. Well, this seems on par with Sum of All Fears. Time to rewatch Clear and Present Danger along with The Hunt for Red October
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1:50AM on 01/17/2014
What about Patriot Games? It's quite good actually, although my favorite is The Hunt For Red October.
What about Patriot Games? It's quite good actually, although my favorite is The Hunt For Red October.
12:29AM on 01/17/2014
Damn I was hoping for higher, what I don't understand is why they made up a whole new Jack Ryan story when there is a plethora of great Jack Ryan stories written by Tom Clancy that could be adapted.
Damn I was hoping for higher, what I don't understand is why they made up a whole new Jack Ryan story when there is a plethora of great Jack Ryan stories written by Tom Clancy that could be adapted.
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3:49AM on 01/18/2014
Probably cause they didn't think anyone wanted to see Harrison Ford as President again.
Probably cause they didn't think anyone wanted to see Harrison Ford as President again.