FlixChatter Review – Jack Ryan: The Shadow Recruit

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It’s been over a decade that we saw a Jack Ryan film. Chris Pine now fills the shoes that’s been vacated by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck in the fifth feature of the long-dormant franchise. The major difference is, this is the first time that the film’s plot isn’t based on a specific novel by Tom Clancy, so in a way it’s a reboot. Before the title shows up, in roughly 20 min of so, we’re treated to an origin story of our hero. Instead of being set on the Cold War era, Ryan’s journey began post 9/11 as seeing the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers inspired him to join the army. He survived a chopper attack and had to undergo an extensive physical therapy for nearly two years, all the while a CIA agent Thomas Harper has been secretly monitoring his progress. As soon as deems Ryan is ready for action, Harper recruits him and send him back to college to finish his PhD in economics.

A decade later, Ryan working in Wall Street monitoring suspicious activity that might post terrorist threat. Soon he discovers that a stealthy Russian investment worth billions that could damage the US stock market down to the level of the great depression. The villain in question is a Soviet Army veteran Viktor Cheverin who’s none too happy about the US’ intervention of the Soviet’s invasion in Afghanistan. Posing as a broker on a mission to audit Cheverin’s account, Ryan is off to Moscow.

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The first fight sequence between Ryan and a Ugandan hired-assassin twice his size (you might’ve seen him in the trailer) packs a punch. Ryan somehow manages to outmaneuver a trained killer despite relatively limited training. After all, he’s more of an analyst than a Bourne-type killing machine, more brain than brawn but it certainly worked in his favor. Ryan’s ‘regular guy’ appeal and his humanity is what separates our protagonist from the typical action hero. After he kills someone, Ryan is in a state of shock. He doesn’t take killing lightly as if it’s ‘just a job’ like Bond would say. He’s haunted by the experience and that dread is written all over his face.

The action is not something you’ve never seen before. In fact, a lot of what happens in this film feel familiar, there’s nothing groundbreaking by any means. The most thrilling sequence involving Ryan breaking into the baddie’s office plays out like a Mission Impossible sequence, I expect the theme song to come on as I’m watching it! Even the story is somewhat predictable and not as suspenseful as one would expect, yet it’s got enough going for it to keep me tuning in. Chris Pine makes for a pretty good Jack Ryan in that he’s easy to root for in the same vein of his predecessor Harrison Ford. What he lacks in range he more than makes up in screen presence and likability. Kevin Costner has the effortless gravitas as his CIA mentor, apparently he was offered the role of Jack Ryan for The Hunt for Red October but he turned it down. I think he would’ve been excellent in the role and I must say he still looks fit enough to kick ass if need be. Which made me wish they had given him a bit more dynamic stuff to do in this movie.

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The weakest link here is Keira Knightly, who despite pulling off a decent American accent as Ryan’s girlfriend seems horribly miscast. She just isn’t believable in the role of a nurse who’s constantly worried her boyfriend is having an affair. Plus there’s zero chemistry between her and Pine. There is a pretty tense scene between her and Kenneth Branagh as Cheverin at the dinner table, and I have to say she has way more chemistry with him than with Pine. That brings me to Sir Branagh, whose direction here was the main reason I was somewhat anticipating this movie. Well, I can’t say that he acquit himself as well as a director here, compared to his previous work. I’m not too fond of his camera work here with the extensive use of unnecessary close-ups, though I’m glad he’s not a fan of the shaky cam technique. I do think he makes for a pretty compelling baddie. His scenery-chewing performance as Cheverin, complete with an over-the-top Russian accent, is quite a hoot. There’s a hint of chilling unpredictability when he stares at you with his devilish smirk, and Branagh gives himself a grand entrance if you will, the first time he comes on screen.

Overall I enjoyed this one despite many of its flaws. I think the key here is that I buy Pine as Jack Ryan, unlike Ben Affleck who lacks the confidence and charisma in the role. Though Pine plays Ryan as being unsure of his ability, he certainly has that inherent swagger. It’s also fun seeing Costner back in the action genre. It gets no point for originality however, nor does it inject as much life to the long-dormant franchise the way J.J. Abrams did with the Star Trek reboot. The score by one of my favorite composers Patrick Doyle also didn’t wow me as his last work in Branagh’s film THOR, which remains one of my fave soundtrack of recent memory. I think the script could’ve been a lot stronger to make this a memorable spy thriller. As it stands now, it’s just good enough to make me want to see what’s next.


Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


What do you think of the latest Jack Ryan movie?

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43 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review – Jack Ryan: The Shadow Recruit

  1. Good stuff Ruth. Just finished watching this one. You make some good points. Pine is an interesting variation of the character and I’m curious to see if it launches from here.

    1. Ahah sounds like you’re not fond of it? It’s not a stellar thriller but it’s still pretty good. Pine is a pretty charismatic actor, though for some reason he doesn’t do anything for me.

        1. So you do like it? I still wish it were better but I like Pine & Costner enough that it still works for me. And Branagh as the villain is not bad either. Can’t stand Keira though.

    1. Well it sounds like Branagh’s influenced by 70s thrillers set during the Cold War, but somehow I think he managed to modernize the story. Yeah much better than Affleck’s effort indeed!

    1. I LOVE Costner in action films, he was sooo good in No Way Out. Pine is not bad though, but I think if they had gotten Costner 20 yrs ago it’d have been great to see!

  2. Good review Ruth. Though it isn’t memorable, nor is it all that perfect to begin with, it was still a lot better than half of the junk we see in January, so for that, I had to give it some amount of credit. Well, for that reason, and also because it is quite fun.

    1. You’re right, it’s not a bad film for January, and I think it’s quite fun too. Wish they had someone better than Keira Knightley though!

  3. Interesting review, Ruth! I like Pine so I was holding out hope that this one would be good. Naturally I love Branagh too. Knightley was a surprise casting, as this doesn’t at all seem to be her usual bag. Nicely done, think I might wait to rent it after reading this though!

    1. Hi there V! If you like Pine you’ll likely love this more than I do. I like him as Ryan, he’s quite charismatic but also has the vulnerable side. Branagh is great as the villain, kinda over the top but it works, ahah. Knightley is a hit and miss for me, love her in Pride & Prejudice but here she seems misplaced.

    1. Hi James! I love this genre so I guess I’m more predisposed to liking it. I also like Branagh and Costner and Pine is a pretty charismatic leading man. Story could’ve been much better though.

  4. Ted S.

    Nice review Ruth, we’re in agreement on a lot of things here. I prob would’ve given 4 stars since I already saw it twice! 🙂

    I didn’t mind Keira as Ryan to be wife, I know that they’ve been trying to beef up Kathy’s role in other films but failed and I guess they wanted her to be part of the action in this film. I love the look and feel of the film, Branagh really nailed the look of 70s and spy flicks. I also thought Doyle’s score was pretty great, fits the mood of the movie. Pine was good as Ryan, Baldwin is still Jack Ryan in my book. I really like that they showed how Ryan got hurt, in the books and earlier movies, they’ve only referring to that event. And yes Costner was great, he would’ve been great as Ryan had he accepted the role in The Hunt for Red October. It’s kind of nice for Branagh to throw a little homage to Red October, he had Costner wore the navy outfit near beginning of the film, if you remember in Red October, Baldwin wore that similar outfit. So as a fan boy, I got a big smile when I saw that scene.

    Now for my beef with the movie, again I’m little annoy that the studio kept saying it’s an original story, when I saw the film and the plot kicked in, I thought to myself, it’s the plot from Clancy’s Debt of Honor! Since it’s co-written by David Koepp, I shouldn’t be surprised by it. He’s known for copying other people’s materials but somehow gets credit for being “original”. Funny you mentioned Mission: Impossible because Koepp also wrote that movie, so I’m sure he wrote that dinner/break in scene. I also didn’t think Branagh was good as the villain, he should’ve cast someone else and just focus on directing, he didn’t look comfortable in the role to me. Some of the action scenes, particularly the climactic chase, I thought it’s sloppily edited. I also wanted to see at least one big shootout sequence, that’s the signature of all the previous films, except The Sum of All Fears but the less we talk about that film the better. I hated that movie!

    I agree that the film could’ve been more original but again Mr. Koepp co-wrote it so we shouldn’t expect anything original from him. All in all though, this one might be my second favorite in the series and it’s too bad we won’t get to see anymore adventures of Jack Ryan, it barely made $20mil over the weekend. But I really enjoyed the film and had a great time with it. Looking forward to watch it again on my home theater.

    1. I’m partial to Harrison Ford as I grew up watching him but yeah I think Baldwin’s perhaps the most realistic Jack Ryan. I like that they made Pine to be more of an intellectual agent but of course when needed he can surely kick ass, even tackling someone twice his size 😉

      Funny that you like Branagh as director more than as the villain, I’m the opposite. Seems like he had fun playing Cheverin and his scenes w/ Knightley is pretty suspenseful as I wasn’t sure what he was gonna do to her. Even despite the hilarious accent he still pulled it off. I honestly have forgotten all about Sum of All Fears but I remember I didn’t care for Affleck.

      Too bad this film tanked, I’d have loved to see Costner do more in the franchise. Well he’s got two upcoming films this year, that 3 Days to Kill looks like a fun action film though I hope it won’t end up being a dumb flick like Die Hard 5!

      1. Ted S.

        Yeah I like Ford too but he’s way too old when took over the role, I remember Clancy wasn’t too happy about it when Baldwin didn’t come back. Ford was like 50 years old in Patriot Games and in the book, Ryan was only in his mid 30s. I think Affleck would’ve been good as Ryan too but the problem was that The Sum of All Fears was just badly written and directed. It was trying to be this “smart” thriller but it failed on all levels. With the right script and director, that film could’ve been very good. What’s even worst was that it hardly have any action in it, for a film advertised as an action thriller, there’s only one action scene, a lousy fight scene between Ryan and henchman.

        Another thing Branagh did right was to have all of the Russian characters spoke in their native language, I hate it when characters from different country spoke English with accents!

        Let’s hope Costner will have a comeback, he has two movies opening up in couple of months. 3 Days to Kill looks like a fun action movie and Draft Day looks intriguing since it deals with the behind stories of the NFL Draft.

  5. Just what I expected from a film opening this time of the year…. just OK. I’ll wait until it goes out on DVD. I do have to say I like Chris Pine and hopes he’ll be part of the new generation of action stars.

  6. Hey Ruth! Pleasantly surprised by the review and score here, but that’s primarily because of the trailer, which I thought just looked so generic. Not sure I’ll get around to this one at the cinema as all the big Oscar movies are being released here at the moment, but I might give it a rental.

    1. The trailer is nothing special I agree, but I’m a sucker for spy thrillers and was curious about how this Jack Ryan would fare against the others. For the most part I like it, but yeah just give it a rent Chris.

    1. Oh yeah, you gotta start w/ The Hunt of the Red October which I actually saw AFTER the Harrison Ford films. This one is not based on any of Clancy’s books so it’s not related to the others. I do enjoy the Jack Ryan movies, they’re fun action thrillers. You can skip Sum of All Fears w/ Ben Affleck though.

  7. I should be seeing this soon. I figured it would be flawed, but it looks like fun. Besides, I love spy movies, and that cast is great (Knightley looked like a weak link in the trailer, so I’m not surprised).

    1. If you like spy thrillers it should be worth your while Josh. Knightley is weak but even so her scenes with Branagh are actually one of the highlights.

  8. Hi, Ruth:

    Intriguing critique for what I figure is a testbed for a future franchise.

    Mr. Clancy’s Jack Ryan always struck me as being too humane for field work. And it’s Ryan’s humanity that makes him shine as a character. Being in the right place at the right time to do things a bit beyond his reach.

    The cast holds just enough nostalgia with Costner and Brannagh. While Ms. Knightly really hasn’t caught lightning in a bottle since her role as a bounty hunter in ‘Domino’. I’ll take in any chance to enjoy Brannagh direct.

    1. You’re right that Jack being too humane for field work and it really shows here. Towards the end he went to action hero mode though, but he’s never a cold-blooded killer.

      “The cast holds just enough nostalgia with Costner and Brannagh” Indeed! I just saw Branagh’s interview w/ Jimmy Kimmel where he talked about Costner being a generous collaborator and that they’re both used to having dual duty of directing and acting. It’s nice to see Costner back in action mode again.

  9. To be honest I didn’t expect much from this but it’s pleasing to see you found plenty to enjoy in this Ruth. I do love Harrison Ford’s films, it’s a shame it has been so long since a good Jack Ryan movie.

  10. Pingback: » Movie Review – Bourne Supremacy, The Fernby Films

  11. Pingback: » Movie Review – Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Fernby Films

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