Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Stars: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh.
Chris Pine is obviously the go-to guy at the moment for filmmakers planning on rebooting lucrative franchises. Having previously played Captain Kirk in J J Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise, Pine now tackles Tom Clancy’s heroic CIA analyst Jack Ryan. Pine follows in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin who played Ryan in The Hunt For Red October, Harrison Ford who played him in Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger, and Ben Affleck who starred in 2002’s disappointing Sum Of All Fears.
But Clancy, who was not a fan of Ford’s portrayal of the character, may well turn over in his grave at what the filmmakers have done to his creation here – rather than a quiet, bookish and essentially decent analyst full of integrity, they have transformed Ryan into an action hero more in the Jason Bourne/James Bond mold. Shadow Recruit is not actually based on any single one of Clancy’s many novels, but rather offers up another origin story that takes us back to the origins of his career with the CIA.
When we first meet Ryan he is studying at London’s School of Economics when 9/11 happens. Full of patriotic fervour the young Ryan enlists in the Marines. While serving in Afghanistan his helicopter is shot down and he is seriously wounded. During his long and painful recuperation, Ryan is approached by CIA handler William Harper (Kevin Costner), who becomes both his mentor and a father figure. Ryan is recruited and sent undercover to work on Wall Street, where his financial analysis skills are used to try and track money laundering operations that will hopefully also lead to terrorist cells. When he uncovers some anomalies in trades from a major Russian firm, Ryan is sent to investigate. This brings him into the sphere of self made millionaire and oligarch Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), who is planning to launch a terrorist attack against the US and destroy the world economy at the same time.
Shadow Recruit is a rather hackneyed and formulaic action thriller that ultimately offers little that we haven’t seen before. It even climaxes with the cliched ticking time bomb scenario. There are plenty of gaping holes in the plot, although director Branagh handles the material at a cracking pace throughout and you don’t really get much time to think about the implausibilities and flaws in logic until after the credits have finished rolling.
Branagh, who directed the special effects heavy Thor, proves a reasonably dab hand with the demands of this action thriller. He may have seemed a strange choice for this brainless action thriller, but he handles the material in an almost classical fashion, without resorting to that rapid fire style of kinetic editing that renders action scenes almost unwatchable. There are a couple of fast paced chase sequences, but the highlight is a rather brutal fight scene in a hotel bathroom as Ryan battles an assassin.
Shadow Recruit is something of a throwback to those generic Cold War geo-political thrillers of the late 80s and 90s. The script comes from first time writer Adam Cozad, who first conceived the rough plot for an action thriller several years ago, and veteran screenwriter David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Panic Room, Mission: Impossible, etc), but it has undergone several revisions and rewrites before it was fashioned into a contemporary vehicle for Jack Ryan. It is no surprise that one sequence in which Ryan penetrates Cherevin’s high tech office to try and download incriminating evidence onto a flash drive resembles something out of Mission: Impossible.
The script includes little details from the Ryan lore as created by Clancy, but Ryan’s transformation from a greenhorn rookie agent to gung ho action hero occasionally grates. Even a broken back doesn’t seem to slow him down as he fights against the villains and saves the world. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (who worked with Branagh on both the remake of Sleuth and Thor) has nicely shot the film, and he has incorporated some great evocative cityscapes of New York and Moscow.
The main problem with Shadow Recruit lies with the casting of the charisma free Pine as Ryan; he brings a youthful swagger to the role that is a far cry from the integrity and inherent credibility that Ford brought to the role or the edgy quality that Baldwin had. Branagh has brought in a top notch supporting cast though to try and deflect from Pine’s lack of credibility in the role.
Costner (who was at one stage considered for the role of Ryan for Red October) seems to be making something of a screen comeback of late, and he brings a sense of gravity and authority to his role as Harper. But he is lumbered with some trite and cliched dialogue. As the stock villain of the piece, Branagh is good, but he seems to be auditioning for the role of a future megalomaniacal Bond villain. And Kiera Knightley, who is often seen in period pieces and lavish costume drama, is wasted in a fairly thankless role as Cathy, the beautiful nurse and Ryan’s love interest (a role previously played by Anne Archer and Gates McFadden.)
It’s been twelve years since Ryan last graced the screen in Sum Of All Fears, and after this disappointing reboot it may well be time to go back to the drawing board!