Chris Pine follows in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck by taking on the role of Tom Clancy’s hero in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Kenneth Branagh’s film reboots the franchise, ditching Clancy’s source material to deliver a high octane thriller that has all the right moves to deliver a new set of Jack Ryan adventures.
Branagh’s film charts Ryan’s ascent from economics student to CIA agent, following pit-stops in 9/11 and a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Shadow Recruit is a lean thriller (clocking-in under two hours) but it covers a lot of ground – we see Ryan recover from war injuries, fall in love with Keira Knightley and be recruited by Kevin Costner’s William Harper within the first 30 minutes. It’s then on to Moscow, where our spy tries to uncover the secret goings on of Branagh’s evil Viktor Cherevin.
Shadow Recruit ticks all the right boxes, and the film is a throwback to Hollywood thrillers of the ‘90s (while also tipping its hat to some ‘70s-style paranoia). Forget what you hear about the Bourneification of Jack Ryan, that’s just a knee-jerk reaction to most modern spy thrillers that feature hand-to-hand combat. This Ryan is still more desk jockey than action man. Pine brings the right amount of all-American hero to the character – he’s more boy-scout than Baldwin, an eager Beaver who wants to serve his country. Meanwhile Knightley is surprisingly effective as his suspicious fiancé. It’s a role that could have been under-written but it feels fleshed-out here – although she does become something of damsel in distress in the last act.
Branagh’s Cherevin borders on cliché, but he clearly loves playing the villain. His accent is thick as week old goulash but he works within the confines of playing the bad guy. At this point in time, it’s almost refreshing to see an evil Russian on the screen. The stand-out supporting character in the film is Kevin Costner’s William Harper, Ryan’s handler and unlike his protégé, he’s more used to action. Costner shines in the role and we get to see why he’s such a great movie star – and why producer Mace Neufeld wanted him to portray Ryan in The Hunt For Red October.
Slick, fast and highly entertaining, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit never gets bogged-down in too many specifics. You could niggle that the film’s plot isn’t as dense as its ‘90s counterparts, but this is still a strong thriller – one that doesn’t rely on CGI, but intricate suspense-filled set-pieces.