Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review

Posted: July 16, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

jack-ryan-shadow-recruit-poster-au-691x1024Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Most years, I find myself completely disinterested in the batch of releases that come out in January. Sometimes there are exceptions though, and this year, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was one of them. The film never looked amazing, but it did look like it had potential to be a fun spy/action film. I ultimately was a bit too busy in January to take the time to see it in theaters, but I knew I’d be checking it out once it hit the home market. I even watched all of the previous Jack Ryan films in preparation. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to such lengths for a film that I only expected mediocrity out of. Anyway, with the film finally on DVD I’ve been able to see it and can safely say it’s pretty much exactly what I expected.

Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is a young student who enlists in the marines in the wake of 9/11. While serving, Ryan is in a critical helicopter crash which almost cripples him. He begins physical therapy with the help of beautiful medical student Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley). Ryan also attracts the attention of Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), a CIA official who sees potential in Ryan. Cut to ten years later and Ryan, now in a long-standing relationship with Cathy, is working on Wall Street as a CIA analyst, though under the cover of a compliance officer. Ryan spots irregularities in the accounts of Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), a Russian business man. Ryan goes to investigate, and soon learns that Cherevin has the intent, and the capabilities, to cripple the U.S. economy.

Shadow Recruit gets off to a pretty rough start. The first 15-20 minutes are dedicated to a sort of back story for Ryan, which connects him with 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, explains how he met his girlfriend, and how he joined the CIA. None of this material is very interesting in it’s own right, and on the whole does not really play into the grand scheme of the film. I’d wager that you can cut all of this material out and not miss a beat. Jack Ryan’s back story doesn’t really matter, what makes him interesting is what he is, not how he become this way. However here, even that isn’t so. Traditionally, Jack Ryan’s role as a CIA analyst was integral to the character, and while the films may have stretched the kind of situations an analyst would likely get into, the character always seemed true to that core. This Jack Ryan feels a lot more like your generic movie spy, especially in the second half when he becomes action man. The early scenes try to show Ryan out of his element, but the come off more like a spy adjusting to his new job slowly than someone who works at a desk being pushed out of their element.

In spite of this, Chris Pine manages to make Ryan a likable enough character. Kevin Costner also works pretty well as Ryan’s handler and Kenneth Branagh is a lot of fun as the film’s villain Viktor Cherevin. Branagh brings the right amount of charm and ruthlessness to the part and he’s very enjoyable to watch. Rounding out the principles is Kiera Knightley who’s stuck in a pretty poorly written part as Jack’s girlfriend. The script’s insistence on focusing on Jack’s romantic life is frustrating and the reasons for integrating her in the film become more forced as the film goes on.

In addition to playing the main villain, Branagh is also the one in the director’s chair. He manages to do an okay job. He is a very talented director so, as expected, the film feels like it was made by a professional. But at the same time, one can tell this isn’t really a project Branagh had any passion for. There is no sense of style or true creativity on display here. It isn’t a poorly made film, it just feels a little bland. Even the action scenes here are fairly uninspired. While there is one fun break in scene, and another where Branagh threatens to ram a light bulb down someone’s throat, most of the action scenes are just very standard. It’s like the filmmakers didn’t want to go too over the top with the action, but didn’t want to make it too grounded either. Granted, I don’t want to come off to critical here. The action scenes are enjoyable enough and there certainly never boring, they just can’t really compete with the big boys.

Overall, the central issue with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the lack of identity. There’s just nothing special or exciting here. Still, I can’t really call it a bad film either. It’s mostly well-made and it has some entertaining action scenes. It’s the kind of movie you casually watch while you’re doing laundry or something. It’ll help pass the time, but that’s really all it’s good for.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. If they ever decided to roll with a franchise for this, I’d totally be all for it. Sadly, with the box-office returns, that may never happen. Oh well.

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