With Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley,Kenneth Branagh, Colm Feore. Written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language. 105 minutes.
Jack Ryan, the CIA analyst/action hero created by the late author Tom Clancy, has struggled to get a toehold on the big screen. He was played by Alec Baldwin in “The Hunt For Red October” (1990). Harrison Ford took over the role for “Patriot Games” (1992) and “Clear And Present Danger” (1994). Then Ben Affleck took a whack at it in “The Sum Of All Fears” (2002).
However, now we are in the age of the movie “reboot,” where old characters like Batman and James Bond get restarted as if the earlier canonical films didn’t exist. In fact, when the 2006 Superman reboot “Superman Returns” failed, producers ignored it entirely and made last year’s “Man Of Steel.” So consider JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT a reboot of the series. You don’t need to have seen the earlier ones because there’s no continuity, and the action has been moved to the present day.
To play Ryan, they’ve cast Chris Pine, already involved in yet another successful reboot: the “Star Trek” series. The January release date suggests Paramount is rolling the dice here, not quite sure what they have. It turns out to be a solid thriller with a strong cast, some great set pieces, and a set up for many more films to come. It may not have much to do with the Clancy novels beyond the character (it’s not based on any of the late Clancy’s many Ryan novels), but then the Jason Bourne movies have very little to do with the Robert Ludlum novels on which they are supposedly based.
After an extended prologue, Ryan is recruited by Harper (Kevin Costner) to be a covert CIA agent. He works for a big Wall Street firm but that’s only a cover for his real work: monitoring international financial transactions for hints of terrorist activity. When he sees a number of suspicious dealings with the firm’s Russian partner Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed), he heads to Moscow to see what he can find out. Unfortunately, he cannot tell his girlfriend Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) anything because they are not yet married.
That sets up the main story involving a convoluted plot by Cherevin to cause a financial crash in America while Ryan is trying not to have his cover blown. As he says after one near-death escape, he’s just an analyst. He’s reminded that his military training makes him more than that, but it separates Ryan from the other big screen superspies. He may be a war hero but he’s a regular guy.
As a director, Branagh has gone far afield from his Shakespeare films. His direction of the lumbering “Thor” (2011) did not inspire confidence. Yet here, provided a much better script, he shows he can build character moments. A scene where Cathy has to distract Viktor over dinner while Ryan is trying to steal the Russian’s computer files isn’t simply a few moments of suspense, but a complex scene that reveals character and mixes it with potential seduction.
Branagh is s plus as Viktor, not hamming it up as the villains of some of the more unfortunate Bond movies did, while Knightley makes the most of her admittedly underwritten role. As Harper, Costner gets his best part in years. He’s not simply the guy recruiting and handling Ryan. One hopes his character gets further developed in subsequent films. The potential is certainly there.
As for Chris Pine, it’s now likely he will be starring in two film series for some time to come. His Ryan is likeable, wry on occasion, devoted to the woman he loves, and not afraid to admit when he’s in over his head. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” may be a reboot, but one suspects it won’t be in the shadows for long.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.