Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the second reboot of this franchise and dedicated to author Tom Clancy who passed away in 2013. Unlike the previous films, this is not based on a novel by the author, but is an original story that involves his most iconic character. Considering that the first Jack Ryan novel, “The Hunt for Red October” was published in 1984, this was the first of several good ideas the filmmakers came up with. The second was choosing Kenneth Branagh to sit in the director’s chair, while the third was casting him as the central villain.
John Patrick “Jack” Ryan (Chris Pine) is studying at the London School of Economics when 9/11 takes place. He has a very visceral reaction and races off to join the Marine Corps. Becoming an officer, he is injured in Afghanistan while heroically saving two of his men. After regaining the ability to walk, thanks to “Doctor Catherine Mueller” (Kiera Knightley), he is recruited into the CIA by “William Harper” (Kevin Costner). Harper sends Ryan back to finish his studies in London and he graduates with a Ph.D. in Economics.
Fast forward a decade and Ryan is living with Mueller, working as a compliance officer for a Wall Street banking firm and continuing his work as a CIA analyst. He discovers some irregularities in financial transaction involving a Russian, “Viktor Cherevin” (Kenneth Branagh). Cherevin’s firm does business with Ryan’s employer and this allows Ryan to travel to Moscow, ostensibly to audit the accounts he couldn’t access remotely from his own office.
On arrival, he is nearly killed and then learns that Cherevin has disposed of the questionable assets, thwarting Ryan’s attempt to learn more. Harper is Ryan’s handler on this operation and he comes up with a plan to take advantage of the unexpected presence of Mueller in Moscow (she flew in to find out what Jack is up to). They learn that Cherevin’s son has been sent to the U.S. as a sleeper agent to trigger this all-out assault on the U.S. by setting off a major explosion to cause the markets to free-fall. It becomes a race to see if Ryan’s incredible ability to recognize patterns will allow him to prevent the explosion.
What makes Jack Ryan such a satisfying character to read about, and watch on the big screen is that while he’s brave and heroic, he’s also not a “superspy” in terms of his ability to be physical. He’s a brilliant, creative thinker. He’s also incredibly driven to accomplish his mission, keeping the nation he loves safe. Chris Pine nails these attributes as well or better than anyone who played the role before him. Sadly, he and Keira Knightley do not have the chemistry that Tom Clancy created between his favorite hero and the woman that this hero was madly in love with. Watching Kevin Costner in this role is like seeing an older version of his Naval Intelligence Officer character “Tom Farrell” from 1987’s No Way Out, using his experience and wisdom to make a mission work. Gemma Chan is good but underutilized as one of Harper’s operators. Kenneth Branagh is one of those rare exceptions, an actor who can direct and still deliver a strong performance while he is in front of the lens. I’m looking forward to seeing this on DVD so I can scroll through what I’m sure are a bunch of fun extras.
Hopefully the film’s underwhelming performance among a younger audience won’t prevent an attempt at a sequel. As franchise reboots go, this is well above average.