Movie Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
The last time we saw Jack Ryan he was played by Ben Affleck and his fall 2001 movie, “The Sum of All Fears,” became a spring 2002 release because of a little thing called 9/11.
So it makes a kind of sense that the new movie, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” begins on 9/11. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is a student at the London School of Economics and wakes up from a nap on a campus bench. There’s a buzz, people rushing about, most running toward TV sets, where, yes, the twin towers are ablaze. Ryan is stunned. “You’re American, aren’t you?” a fellow student says. “Sorry, mate.” Like America, Ryan is awake now.
It’s not a bad beginning and it allows us to contemplate the various cinematic incarnations of Jack Ryan against the course of history.
He first showed up as Alec Baldwin to help Sean Connery defect from Russia a year before the fall of the Soviet Union. Two years later, he aged 18 years (from 32 to 50) by becoming Harrison Ford, who battled the smaller game after the Cold War: a renegade faction of the IRA and a Colombian drug cartel. With Affleck, he became young again (30) and matched wits with an Austrian neo-Nazi intent on blowing up Baltimore (hence the delay in the film’s release). Now, with Pine, though he’s a bit older (34), he’s starting over. This is a post-9/11 Ryan but oddly his foe is an old one: the Russians. An old Soviet faction wants to destroy America by 1) blowing up half of Wall Street at the same time it 2) sells off enough financial assets to sink the U.S. dollar and thus the world economy.
All in all, it’s not a bad action-thriller.
Zero to 60
For one, there are no “betrayals” within the CIA. That’s a nice change. (See the “Mission: Impossible” movies.) Plus the villain is good: director Kenneth Branagh. Plus some of the dialogue is very good.
At one point, for example, Ryan’s fiancée, Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), who only recently discovered Ryan was CIA, is having drinks with our villain, Viktor Cherevin (Branagh), in Moscow. He’s trying to win her over with Russian romanticism. She mentions regret, how awful it is, and he shrugs. “Regret, it piles up around us like books we haven’t read.” That’s a nice line. Adam Cozad (his first screenplay) or David Koepp (his zillionth)? Or someone else? Either way: good work.
But the movie takes a while to get going. After 9/11 we cut immediately to a helicopter in Afghanistan. Ryan is a lieutenant, arguing with his men about favorite football teams, when a missile strikes. He performs heroically but now we’re at Walter Reed hospital for rehab and recruitment into the CIA by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who wants Ryan less for his heroic bod than for his analytical brain. Then they stick him undercover on Wall Street as a financial analyst. Then it’s 10 years later.
Nothing is really driving the movie at this point. He goes into work, helps a buddy win over a girl, can’t open an account—no, a bunch of them—from Cherevin’s company. There’s talk on the business channels of financial irregularities: Russia is opposed to some Turkish pipeline or something. That story is related to Cherevin’s accounts, of course. Aren’t they always? The background news story in the first act always blows up in the third.
At this point, Ryan, strictly an analyst, is pushed onto the field because nobody else can understand what he’s analyzing. He winds up in Russia for a meeting with Cherevin. Except the genial giant who picks him up at the airport (Nonso Anozie of “Game of Thrones”) tries to kill him in his hotel room. Ryan winds up drowning him in a foot of bathtub water, but he’s shaken. Harper has to come over to calm him down. Nice touch.
Costner’s good, by the way. So is Pine. Branagh is very good. Only Knightley, sadly, is off her game. Or maybe this is her game: to push her face into the scene with bright eyes and a curling, slightly self-aware smile. Plus her subplot—what secret is her boyfriend keeping from her?—is dull business.
The pace of the movie, to be honest, is uneven. It goes from zero to 60 too often. I like it revving at about 15, 20, but I know I’m an anomaly. I like the conversations between Ryan and Harper, Ryan and Cherevin. I like smart confrontation. At one point, Ryan and Cathy are arguing, and Ryan turns to Harper on a nearby couch:
Ryan: Can we have a minute, please?
Harper: No, you can’t.
That’s good. The last third is car chases and fist fights and damsels in distress. Ryan extracts Cherevin’s financial information from Moscow, sure, but could no one else stop the terrorist, Cherevin’s son, in lower Manhattan? Did that have to be Ryan, too? What are we paying the rest of the CIA for?
Zero to 50
The other Jack Ryan movies did OK box office. “The Hunt for Red October” was the sixth-highest-grossing movie of 1990 ($240 million, adjusted), while “Clear and Present Danger” (the Colombian one) was the seventh-highest-grossing movie of 1994 ($244 million, adjusted). This one is barely inching over $50 million.
At the end of the movie, about to meet the President, we get this exchange:
Harper: Any way you can get that boy-scout-on-a-field-trip look off your face?
Ryan: Not a chance.
Harper: That’s what I like about you.
Me, too. Apparently there’s not many of us.