Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jan 21, 2014

An entertaining diversion for the movie dead zone until May.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Grade: C+

Director: Kenneth Branagh (Much Ado About Nothing)

Screenplay: Adam Cozad, David Koepp (Premium Rush) from Tom Clancy novel

Cast: Chris Pine (Star Trek into Darkness), Kevin Costner (Field of Dreams)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 105 min.

by John DeSando

Bright, beautiful, bland, boring: descriptors for Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan and for the rebooted series entry, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The film is not adapted from an original Tom Clancy novel but is rather a reimagining.  As such, it is lifeless while giving the audience the usual tropes from modern post-9/11 and Cold-War spy movies. Lamentably, Pine is no Harrison Ford, lovely as Pine’s blue eyes are. But he beats the Ryan’s of Ben Affleck and Alec Baldwin as he brings a bit of Captain Kirk cool with his charming weaknesses.

Then, what did I think seeing a major motion picture early in the New Year, almost always a sign of a weak production?  Yes, it is. Grand as are the gleaming buildings and flawless computers improbably blinking inscrutable graphs with colors blazing, heart and imagination give way to genre-demanding clichés. Even Patrick Doyle’s throbbing score reminds me of many other thrillers with black SUV’s, sunglasses, and earpieces.

We see Jack from his London School of Economics days, at the time of 9/11, to him as a covert financial analyst who sees a Russian plot to deep-six American finances and terrorize the country. This immature Jack is not your usually slick Clancy operative who can easily extricate himself from any situation—he’s more untidy Jason Bourne than invulnerable James Bond.

As the genre usually demands, Jack falls in love with a glam doc, Cathy (American sounding Keira Knightly), a lovely but expendable lover barely needed except to make him vulnerable to bad-boy Russians. There can be little suspense because from countless spy thrillers, we know that obligatory love will be a pawn in Jack’s struggle with Russian villains like Viktor Cherevin (director Kenneth Branagh), a dying oligarch lacking any love for the good ol’ USA.

Branagh snarls with what little lips he has, just too sinister for a Shakespearean actor capable of subtlety. Branagh is menacing and intelligent if flawed (he’s weakened by vodka, Vanity and women) a caricature of Russia’s current martial arts president.

Some delights emerge from the shadows: the cinematography is spectacular while the buildings and  BMW’s are as glamorous as to be expected in these Euro-intrigues. The sets are spacious and sleek, overpowering the weak plot.

Kevin Costner as Jack’s CIA supervisor, Harper, effectively underplays, with one of the best lines of the screenplay: While Jack argues with Cathy, Harper says, “This is geopolitics, not couples’ therapy.” When he appears in a Navy uniform, not only do we remember the romantic younger Costner in No Way Out, but we also feel a confidence that this veteran can successfully pass the torch to greenhorn Jack.

This interchange may best exemplify my disappointment with this thriller: 

Viktor Cherevin: “You Americans like to think of yourselves as direct. Perhaps you are just rude.”

Jack Ryan: “Perhaps you're just touchy.”

I’m just touchy about my thrillers: I need freshness and challenging intrigue. Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing brings life to a centuries-old story from the greatest literary genius in the English language; his Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a shadow of what that great director can do and what mad mischief a Clancy character can be.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at