Leave it to Hollywood to try to wring more money out of a tired franchise. That’s exactly what they have done with JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT.
The film is based on the character created by bestselling author Tom Clancy. We first met Jack in 1990 when Alec Baldwin played him in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Then came a couple of films, in 1992 and 1994, starring Harrison Ford as the CIA Agent of Steel, and then Ben Affleck played him again in 2002. This time a young Jack Ryan is played by Chris Pine, whom audiences know as James T. Kirk in the rebooted STAR TREK franchise. The guy seems to be making a career out of playing familiar characters.
In JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, we see Jack as a Ph. D. student at the London School of Economics, which is in London, in case you didn’t know. (The director shows the London Eye, the Thames River, the Palace of Westminster and the Union Flag and tells us this is London.) It’s September 11, 2001 and, when the Twin Towers fall, Jack decides to drop out of school and join the army. Fast forward 18 months and we find Jack on duty in Afghanistan. When his helicopter gets shot down, Jack is sent – broken back and all – back to the US for physiotherapy where he meets his future wife, Dr. Cathy Muller, who is played by Keira Knightley.
Stateside and healed, Jack gets recruited into the CIA’s Financial Intelligence Unit and is sent to work at an investment bank on Wall Street as an analyst who covertly tracks down suspicious dealings that may be used to support terrorist activities. When Jack believes he has uncovered a Russian plot to collapse the US economy, he gets sent to Moscow to investigate further. Within minutes of his arrival, someone tries to kill him and Jack Ryan goes from being a boring desk jockey to killer field agent. Fortunately, both his training as a marine and his physical stamina that saw him through his back injury serve him well and he survives his first test with barely a scratch on him. In fact, Jack survives all his altercations with just a tiny cut on his forehead even though he still needs to wear a back brace.
The bad guy in the story is played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directs the film. Branagh plays Russian oligarch and criminal mastermind Victor Cherevin, whose company Ryan is investigating. Although Cherevin somehow knows that Ryan is more than just a paper pusher, he lets his guard down long enough for Ryan to infiltrate his company’s security – not to mention his firewall, download his hard drive onto a USB stick and get it to his CIA handler. Obligatory car chases in two cities follow and a bomb plot is foiled. Jack Ryan saves the world once again and all the good guys live happily ever after.
While there should be enough action in the storyline to sustain the film, it keeps falling flat. For me, it was like watching a bad episode of the TV series HOMELAND… not that there ever was such a thing. The most tension in the film came when Jack was sitting on the floor in Cherevin’s office downloading the files – wow, scary stuff! Are economic crimes ever suspenseful? There was never any point where I was sitting on the edge of my seat wondering how Jack will get through his next tribulation. The camerawork is terribly shaky too – intentionally so – but all that does is make you want to rub your eyes and try to refocus them.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT was the “sum of all my fears”. It expected it to be bad and it didn’t disappoint. Save your money and give it a miss. However, if you are going to see it, keep your eyes out for a very familiar face who has a cameo role.
Listen to the review online at Radio 4. (Click on the link, select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 38:13.)
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