A lean, old-school espionage thriller that never tries to be more than it is, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a very pleasant surprise and possible franchise starter from director Kenneth Branagh. Based upon the character created by the late Tom Clancy (not based on any novel this time, just the character), the film takes a breathless, tech-oriented approach that feels modern and relevant. It’s one of the more successful character ports of recent memory.
Speaking of breathless, before the opening credits roll Jack Ryan (Pine) witnesses 9/11 on TV, joins the Marines, is shot down in Afghanistan, and finds the love of his life, Cathy (Knightley), during his hospital stay. Nary a moment wasted. Soon after Ryan is hired as a covert financial analyst by CIA agent William Harper (Costner) to track possible terrorist account activity. His work leads him to a Russian terrorist named Viktor Cherevin (Branagh), who has a grand scheme to take down the U.S. economy in addition to bombing Wall Street.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit features the requisite double-crosses, close calls, and wars of words between hero and villain, but it all feels fresh thanks to a consistently energetic tempo and characters that are nicely fleshed out. The action scenes are tremendous, highlighted by a showdown involving a van full of explosives and a potential stock market dump of trillions of dollars by the Russians. The semi-complicated relationship between Jack and Cathy keeps character interest high as Jack must conceal his identity yet still convince Cathy he is not cheating on her with his secrecy. Chris Pine is excellent in the lead role, believably heroic and cool when the situation calls for it. Excellent supporting work comes in the form of Kevin Costner as the veteran presence and Keira Knightley as the love interest. Branagh himself does a fine job of balancing his Russian accent with the, at times, cheesy dialogue. He makes for an effectively menacing villain.
Though not as good as some of the recent Bond and Bourne films, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a compelling espionage film that never loses its grasp on the audience. It makes the most of its “old dependable” ingredients with a tight screenplay and competent direction by Branagh, even if it does suffer from occasional bouts of shaky-cam-itis. This is a taut and entertaining time at the movies, and a perfectly fine way to spend a frosty January afternoon.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 105 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.
Theatrical Release: January 17, 2014
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Adam Cozad & David Koepp
Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley, David Paymer