Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Shadow Recruit? Look how bright it is!
"Trust No One."

That's good advice no matter what you're doing! Hello everyone and welcome back to another exciting week at the Tagline! Today I would like to take a moment to detour back into the land of those damn dirty commies trying to attack Amurka the beautiful, and really who knew how to do that better than the late great Tom Clancy himself (This was actually the last movie he wrote before passing away last year). For those who are not familiar, because really why would you be, Jack Ryan is a character who is not new to the silver screen. As the central protagonist in a large number of Tom Clancy's novels, Ryan has been featured in film a total of five times if we count this movie, and portrayed by four different actors. In the Hunt for Red October he was portrayed by Alec Baldwin, and later in Clear and Present Danger AND Patriot Games by Harrison Ford. Though we'd like to try and forget, in The Sum of All Fears Ryan was portrayed by Ben Affleck, that last one being a generally pretty crap movie. Each movie takes a look at Jack Ryan at a different point in his career, working as a CIA analyst to thwart various plots to destabilize the American government and also as a result the rest of the free world. This latest entry puts our new Captain Kirk, Chris Pine, in the role, as a sort of re-imagining of Jack Ryan's origin story. Because the original Ryan was born in like 1951, this tale was updated to incorporate the 9/11 attacks as the inspiration for Ryan's urge to serve, and then get shot down in a helicopter. At that point it's looking like ole Jackie boy is done barely after he begins, but his determined physical rehabilitation, coupled with a pattern he'd discerned in enemy movements before his helicopter was shot down, attracts the attention of Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner, keeping busy this year) who recruits Jack into the CIA, placing him in a Wall Street firm as a covert agent, looking for suspicious financial transactions that could indicate terrorist activity. Eventually something really suspicious crops up, and then it's off to Russia for some good old fashioned espionage.

Of course, the life of a covert CIA operative isn't easy, especially when your girlfriend is wondering why you're going on mysterious movie dates during your lunch break (how is she supposed to know that you're talking about terrorists with government ghosts). In this case, Ryan is involved-on-the-verge-of-marriage with his former physical therapist and now a doctor Cathy Muller (played by Keira Knightly, gosh when was the last time we saw her?) and more or less trying to get her to marry him so that he is allowed to confess that he works for the CIA. This arrangement puts them both in harms way naturally, and in this particular film the principal menace is from Russian tycoon Viktor Cherevin (Portrayed in what I'd call a restrained performance by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed this movie). What follows is a perhaps predictable sequence of tense moments while trying to suss out the terror plot and the intended target, all the while attempting to maintain a quickly failing facade of nonchalance. Everyone turns in fine performances, and I really liked Chris Pine as Jack Ryan (I think he honestly fits the role best, though Harrison Ford was also a very fitting take on Jack Ryan), but the film ultimately ends up feeling kind of safe.

I'm sure there are girls who would like to look up and see this...?
This is the big problem with it overall. You're talking about a movie that is just over 100 minutes run time, and so it has a very compact plot line with little in the way of adornment. That generally is good in a lot of situations, but here as a franchise reboot centered around a very rich world of espionage and other general terror fighting, I would think (and hope) that they would be more ambitious. Perhaps the plot of this movie was still influenced by backlash from The Sum of All Fears, a film that includes a nuclear bomb nearly killing the main character (and we all know how dangerous that is if there isn't a refrigerator nearby to hide in). Economic collapse is scary in real life, but in a movie it is a substantially less thrilling danger, even if it is supposed to be set off by a bomb. I would have liked to see more secondary characters, some sub-plot, just more development in general that didn't feel like it was existing ONLY to push the plot forward. Even the romance aspect of the movie with Ryan and his wife to be is central to events that happen in the third act of the movie, and that is about as close to sub-plot as you get. We see very little of most any characters except when they're in action, and so it becomes more difficult to relate and connect with them.

Don't look so sad. Someday they'll make Wyatt Earp 2 Kev.
This isn't to say it's a terrible movie, it just doesn't do a lot to distinguish itself. It is competently written, and well directed, and full of talented performers, but it never does anything to set itself apart. Given the amount of source material, and the help of the original author, I know they could have done better. With the audience for Tom Clancy's work way up in the armchair historian range (I'm sitting way below the average age of movie-goers who went to see this movie, which was 50+) and the weaker than expected turnout (this film grossed less than any of the other Jack Ryan movies, including the Sum of All Afflecks, which was actually financially successful if nothing else) I have to wonder if we'll see more of the character. There are rumors of Kevin Costner reprising the Thomas Harper role in an adaptation of Without Remorse, but that movies been in limbo for over a decade. I personally hope that it comes out so that we can see a Rainbow Six movie some day.

That's all for today! Join me again next week when the regular post schedule resumes, and we look towards the future.

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