Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth, Kiera Knightly
The Jack Ryan franchise started out with a bang with The Hunt for Red October and has just never been able to find its footing since. That’s not to say the films haven’t made money because they have, just not much. The likes of Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck have taken on the lead role at times in their careers when just their names alone meant box office bank so to combine them with a familiar book series with a built in fan base automatically meant profit even if it wasn’t a huge profit. Jack Ryan is one of those characters that are just hard to get right on film. It would take a pretty ballsy director to really do him justice and no such director has stepped forward as of yet. Ryan is a very cerebral sort of Die Hard type hero. In other words he’s not a hero but he’s constantly thrust into situations where his specific set of talents makes him the only man who could be the hero. Unfortunately for the visual filmmaker Ryan’s talents are a mix of analytical thinking, geopolitics, and often history; not the best action movie bedfellows. Maybe it would take a low budget indie film to do the character right, a film that was never meant to be a tent pole for the studio that distributes it.
So, the films end up being sort of generic action fair. The Hunt for Red October was really the only film in the franchise that came close to getting the character right. That film is also the only critical success in the franchise, which says a lot. Alec Baldwin played the character in that film and while he was thrust into some action packed moments the whole thing was really more about intrigue and strategy, much closer to the heart of the book franchise. Harrison Ford was a great pick for this role but he fell into the same gap as Pierce Brosnan was in when he finally took over the Bond franchise; he just couldn’t get a good script. In retrospect Brosnan’s Bond movies have at least a guilty pleasure appeal but no such luck for the likes of Patriot Games or Clear and Present Danger.
For Shadow Recruit franchise rebooter Chris Pine jumps into the titular role and restarts the character from the beginning. Kenneth Branagh does double duty as the director of the film and as the on screen villain. I say on screen because Jack Ryan fans may consider him an off screen villain too for what he has done to the character. Shadow Recruit ends up being a sort of paint by numbers action film, not dissimilar to The Sum of All Fears. The film might have actually fared just a little better if it were a stand-alone action film and not connected to the Jack Ryan franchise at all. With that said the script and Branagh’s direction do attempt to throw book fans a bone here and there by making Ryan’s analytical approach to problem solving and his investment in geopolitics integral to the story but when the chips are down the character becomes an action super hero which doesn’t feel right consider how he is developed.
Pine is fine in an action role of this type. His serious nature seems to work well for action films. He just needs a good one to star in. Shadow Recruit isn’t bad, it’s just serviceable. There are no surprises in the film at all. Keira Knightly plays the role you fully expect her to play and of course ends up involved in the plan even though she’s just a doctor and suspense follows. Branagh is a wooden villain and Costner seems to be actually bringing a little more to his thin character than he was probably given in the script. There’s some good action in the film and while they aren’t surprising or innovative the performances are all solid. The chemistry between Knightley and Pine works for the most part throughout the film. You’ll watch it and have an ok time and forget it for the next hopefully better action film pretty quickly.