JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT wisely sidesteps the notion of Tom Clancy being displeased with any given screenplay because this given screenplay isn’t based on any given novel. It’s based on the character of Jack Ryan, but sets a whole new stage that all but pretends at being a whole new world.
This 2014 motion picture is directed by Kenneth Branagh, so there’s something. It features a screenplay by David Koepp and Adam Cozad. The former wrote the screenplay to JURASSIC PARK alongside Michael Crichton, so there’s something else.
Chris Pine stars as Jack Ryan and we get a kind of origin story as he’s in England studying economics when 9/11 happens. That prompts him to join the service, which in turn prompts him into a helicopter that’s shot down in Afghanistan. While recovering, he meets his future girlfriend (Keira Knightley) and his future boss (Kevin Costner) in the CIA.
Fast-forward a few years and Ryan unearths an issue on Wall Street as the Russians are acting weird. He’s send to track a billionaire (Branagh) in Russia and there’s trouble right off the bat. Our lad ends up killing a guy and things go from bad to worse as he deals with the Russians and Knightley’s Cathy all at once.
The best scene in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT involves the aforementioned Cathy as she’s at dinner with Ryan and Branagh’s Viktor Cherevin. The scene deploys a moderate amount of sexual tension as we determine if it’s all an act or not. Ryan has to get something out the arrangement, but it’s possible Knightley’s the better actor – and maybe even the better spy.
Unfortunately, we are stuck with Ryan. He’s kind of a slick dude in that modest way and Pine is cordial enough as an actor, although he still lacks the everyman quality brought to the part by Harrison Ford. Given a look at four incarnations of this CIA analyst, it’s clear that Ford takes the cake.
But all is not lost with Pine, as he does exemplify a sort of youthful benevolence lost in Be Affleck’s overly cute take. Here, Ryan is drifting and trying to hold on to pieces of his former life. You believe him when he begs Cathy not to quit on him, when he’s torn between telling her the truth and keeping his ass in the game. He makes the right call.
Costner and Branagh balance the cast nicely as adults on the boundary. You feel it when Costner tries to keep his charge in line, when he tells Cathy and Jack that this is geopolitics and not couples’ therapy. There’s a tone: there are world affairs going on here that have more significance than who said what to whom.
The action of JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is solid in a mediocre way. There aren’t many scenes that stick with you and even the climax is sort of without that sense of danger. The looser bits of intrigue land best, the fragments of simmering humanity on the brink of a refrigerated spy game.