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"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" review: Clancy's CIA hero rebooted....again

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Kenneth Branagh (who also directed) co-stars with Keira Knightley and Chris Pine in "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"
Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp

Based on Characters Created by Tom Clancy

Starring: Chris Pine, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley, Colm Feore

Paramount Pictures’ “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is the fifth movie of the nearly 25-year-old franchise based on characters and situations created by the late Tom Clancy.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who also plays the film’s antagonist Viktor Cherevin) and starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Colm Feore, and Nonso Adioze, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is also the second reboot movie, released 12 years after Phil Alden Robinson’s “The Sum of All Fears.”

The 2014 movie, released four months after Clancy’s death in October of 2013, is notable for various reasons. The most important one is that “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is not based on any of the 15 novels set in Clancy’s Ryan-verse. The screenplay by Adam Cozad and David Koepp is said only to be based on the characters created by Tom Clancy. It cherry picks certain elements of Ryan’s back story as established in Clancy’s books, but the scenario is unique to the film franchise.

The other reason that makes “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit “ notable is that the producers decided to recast the titular character with a fourth actor, Chris Pine.

Pine, who plays Capt. James T. Kirk in the “Star Trek” reboot films, follows in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck, who have played Jack Ryan at different stages of his career as a an analyst for the CIA. Tom Clancy would probably have found this James Bond-like changing of the guard to be ironic.

In the novels, Ryan is the antithesis of James Bond ; he’s a former Marine lieutenant, husband, father, retired stockbroker and, in various books, a desk-bound career analyst who only sees action on the field occasionally. As a literary character, he rises up the ranks of the CIA and into the higher planes of government in Washington, DC.

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

Jack Ryan: You Russians like to think you're poets but perhaps you're just touchy.

As a genuine reboot, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” breaks away from the narrative of the previous films , which were loosely based on four of Clancy’s novels. In essence, it’s the cinematic origins-of story of how Jack Ryan was recruited into the CIA.

Jack Ryan: What's going on?

Student: In there. It's on the news

It is September 11, 2001. Jack Ryan is a young grad student at the London School of Economics. After seeing news reports of Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the U.S., Jack joins the Marine Corps and earns a commission as a second lieutenant.

While on a mission in war-torn Afghanistan, Jack receives a serious back injury when a helicopter he is aboard is shot down by a Taliban ground-to-air missile. After an emergency operation at a U.S. military hospital in Bagram, Lt. Ryan is sent to the States to recover from his military career-ending wounds.

During an extended rehabilitative period at a Baltimore hospital, Jack meets two individuals who will change his life: a beautiful medical student named Cathy Muller (Knightley) and CIA officer Thomas Harper (Costner), who is impressed with Ryan’s innate skills at analyzing facts. Cathy wins Jack’s heart, while Harper provides him with another way to serve his country.

Harper asks Jack to resume his post graduate studies and earn a doctorate in economic studies. Once he graduates, the CIA will place him in a stock brokerage so he can keep a covert eye on unusual economic activity. This, Harper explains, will help the Agency detect transactions linked to terrorist groups or rogue players intent on attacking the homeland.

A decade later, Ryan is a compliance officer in a New York brokerage, carrying out his mission for the CIA. While he is trying to uncover terrorist-linked activities, a new antagonist emerges from the shadows.

His name is Viktor Cherevin (Branagh), a nationalistic Russian tycoon whose love for his country equals his hatred of America. Cherevin is an oligarch with connections to like-minded officials in the Kremlin, and with their covert assistance, he plans to wreak havoc on the U.S. at the earliest opportunity.

Cherevin’s opportunity to strike follows a United Nations vote which goes against the Russian Federation’s wishes. Given the green light by his shadowy Kremlin allies, Cherevin begins withdrawing billions of dollars that various Russian entities have invested in the U.S.

Ryan, whose firm has Cherevin as a client, notices the sudden exit of Russian money from U.S. banks. Using his job as the perfect cover, he flies to Moscow to see for himself what is going on.

When Jack arrives in Moscow, Embee (Adioze) meets him at the airport. Embee is a Ugandan bodyguard sent by Cherevin to protect the young American during his stay in Russia. But when they arrive at Jack’s hotel, Embee reveals his true identity as a hired assassin.

Suddenly, Jack is no longer just a brokerage firm’s compliance officer. He is now a CIA analyst forced to act as a field officer, and he calls the Agency for help. The question now is, will Langley send someone to Moscow to assist?

Thomas Harper: [to Jack] You're not just an analyst anymore, you're operational now.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is a smarter-than-average action-thriller that pays homage to the late Tom Clancy’s stalwart character while taking Ryan’s movie incarnation in a new direction.

Although the screenplay does not have connections to any of the Jack Ryan novels, Adam Cozad and David Koepp adopted some of the character’s traits as established in Clancy’s work.

As played by Pine, Jack can see hidden details that most people in his profession might miss if they are not looking in the right place. In Afghanistan, Lt. Ryan notices patterns in Taliban activity suggesting what the enemy may do in the Marines’ assigned sector. A decade later, Ryan catches some of Cherevin’s financial activities while looking at his computer screen in his New York office.

Pine also continues playing Jack Ryan as a man who does not shrink from action when the situation requires. He is not a cold-blooded killer or a thrill-seeker. Ryan has a strong sense of duty to his nation and a desire to do the right thing.

Kenneth Branagh once again shows his skills as both actor and director, which he first exhibited when he adapted Shakespeare’s “Henry V” in 1989 as an antiwar movie.

He doesn’t play Cherevin as a one-dimensional movie villain. Instead, he gives the character charisma, wit, and a deep (if somewhat twisted) sense of love and loyalty for Russia.

Behind the camera, he not only is adroit enough to direct himself well, but he also gets solid performances from Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, and an uncredited Mikhail Barishnikov.

Branagh also finds balance between action sequences and character-driven scenes. The fight between Ryan and Embee in the hotel bathroom and other set pieces are as good as similar scenes in the other Jack Ryan films. However, Branagh and the screenwriters also add elements of romance, humor, and other emotions that make the characters believable.

Though Clancy purists might disagree, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is an effective and exciting spy thriller. As a reboot, it also puts a cool 21st Century spin on a character that was created in the mid-1980s.

Blu-ray Specs:

Paramount Home Entertainment released “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” on Blu-ray and DVD on June 10. The two-disc Blu-ray/DVD set presents the 2014 feature film and various behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen

Language: English

Subtitles: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Dubbed: French, Portuguese, Spanish

Region: Region A/1

Number of discs: 2

Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)

Studio: Paramount

DVD Release Date: June 10, 2014

Run Time: 105 minutes