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The good (guys) outweigh the baddies in 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit'

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Release date: January 17, 2014

Chris Pine takes on the role of a young Jack Ryan in Shadow Recruit.
paramount pictures

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Written by: David Koepp

Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, and Kenneth Branagh

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These days there are so many prequels and reboots and remakes of popular movies, iconic characters, and book adaptations that it's hard to keep track of how or if they are all related. Then comes a movie like "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", a movie that is both a prequel and a reboot of an iconic character from a best-selling book series, but not exactly based on one singular book.

Confused? Welcome to Hollywood.

Stepping into the legendary shoes of CIA analyst Jack Ryan is Chris Pine. "Shadow Recruit" goes back to the early days of Ryan's career, from his days at Oxford to his time as a Marine, where in which a near tragic mission seemingly dooms him to a life behind the desk. Despite his setback, Ryan's intricate mind gets the attention of a CIA agent played by Kevin Costner, who wants Jack to work as a shadow spy, using his skills to monitor and study the economic trends among world powers.

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The film is surprisingly interesting when it remains focused on developing Ryan as a brilliant mind, and less as an action hero. This is a credit to Chris Pine, who seems comfortable in making the role of Jack Ryan his own, without having to pay homage to those who came before him -- Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, and Ben Affleck. In true reboot fashion, we get to know everything about Ryan's early life, including meeting his wife, played by Keira Knightly -- who also gets in on some of the action.

But every good espionage thriller is only as good as it's villain and unfortunately, "Shadow Recruit" has a great actor in place as the film's antagonist, but he's a amazingly underwritten character with a scheme that is so played out it might as well have been devised by Dr. Evil. Jugging duties as both director and villain, Kenneth Branagh plays Viktor Cherevin, a Russian patriot whose goal is use a terrorist event to cripple the American economy. It's even less interesting than it sounds.

Thankfully, Branagh, holds the movie together better as the film's director than he does as the villain. He handles the action well, although much of it is pretty standard stuff. But more importantly, he gets good performances out of both Pine and Costner and if this is going to be the jumping board for a franchise, it will be because of the audience's willingness to accept them as the team moving forward.

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Of course, next time it will help to have a little better bad guy with a more original plan to take over the world. At least tap into the wealth of stories and characters Clancy left behind when he passed away last fall. It also wouldn't hurt to add a little bit of actual shadow to this world of espionage. A few surprises along the way are never a bad thing.

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