Jack Ryan Reboots with Mixed Results
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2014 17 Jan
DVD Release Date: June 10, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: January 17, 2014
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Costner, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Alec Utgoff
Even the death of author Tom Clancy last year hasn't stopped his book-turned-movie series of thrillers about CIA agent Jack Ryan.
The cinematic portrayal of Ryan originated with Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October (1990). Harrison Ford then took Baldwin's place for Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994). The franchise then laid dormant for several years before being revived in 2002 for The Sum of All Fears with Ben Affleck in the title role.
Now more than a decade later, Jack Ryan has returned in the form of Chris Pine (Star Trek). In his rebooted incarnation, Ryan is an Afghanistan veteran (he requested to serve there) recovering from war injuries when he's recruited by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner, Man of Steel) to work for the CIA. Ryan's mission: finish a dissertation that caught Harper's eye, then work on Wall Street and expose terrorist funding.
But there's a catch: Ryan can't tell anyone, including girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina), what he does for a living. The secretiveness takes a toll on his romantic life, as Cathy begins to suspect Ryan's dodgy explanations for mysterious nights out and trips abroad have something to do with another woman rather than work.
Ryan's nemesis is Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directs), a Russian oligarch looking to ensure his legacy among his countrymen by bringing America to its knees. To that end, Cherevin engineers a plot to attack America and destabilize its financial system, leading, in Pine's speculation, to "panic, bread lines, a second Great Depression."
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit never takes off, but neither does it crash. Branagh is stuck with a globe-hopping script that substitutes shifting locations for narrative energy. Within the first several minutes, Shadow Recruit leaps from London to Afghanistan to Walter Reed Medical Center to Moscow, yet Branagh manages to keep the story centered on Ryan, his romance with Cathy and his relationship with Harper.
A memorable shootout in a hotel room is a first-half highlight, but problems emerge in the back end. A steady build to climactic events in New York is drawn out to the point of tediousness, including yet another sequence of a main character attempting to download key files before he's discovered. One of the ongoing mysteries of modern cinema is storytellers' insistence on showing us characters waiting to access key files. There's nothing more deadly to cinematic suspense than watching someone else stare at a computer screen, no matter how loudly the soundtrack pulsates or how furious the cross-cutting the reveals the threat closing in on the hero tethered to desk. Even less effective in this film is the car chase that provides the film's finale.
Although Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ends with a whimper, it's hard to fault the cast. The attractive actors keep things interesting for much of the film—enough to justify another go-round for Pine and Knightley in key roles. Given a better story, this new Ryan could become Pine's second memorable role in a franchise reboot (in addition to his work as Captain Kirk) that, by all indications, has enough potential that it need not take another decade to develop its next chapter.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; the f-word; god-am-; bull--it; b-tch
- Drinking/Smoking: Viktor is said to drink "like a Russian"; wine drinking and drunkenness; prescription drugs offered and consumed
- Sex/Nudity: Cathy is shown covered by a towel after getting out of the shower; Jack and Cathy wake up next to each other, covered by sheets; a kiss
- Violence/Crime: Footage of a burning World Trade Center; a missile strikes a helicopter; Ryan's bloody face and body are shown as he’s rushed into surgery; a needle punctures an arm; handguns are displayed and loaded; shootings; a drowning; a woman is slapped; a stabbing
- Religion/Morals/Marriage: Jack lives with Cathy but wants to marry her; Viktor is said to "chase women—the more married, the better"; the book of Lamentations factors into the terror plot
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Publication date: January 17, 2014