Jack Ryan. At first he was played by Alec Baldwin. Then Harrison Ford took over the role for a couple of movies. And then Ben Affleck was given a shot. Now it's the turn of Chris Pine, having been handed the role for a film that plays out as a bit of an origin story for our main character.
The story isn't exactly complex. After an opening sequence that shows Ryan involved in a helicopter crash that seriously injures his spine, we see him work towards his recovery and fall for the woman helping him back on his feet (Cathy Mullan, played by Keira Knightley). He's then recruited by Thomas Harper (a decent supporting role for Kevin Costner) to work for the CIA. He is supposed to work as a covert analyst, a job that will allow him to inspect financial transactions and use the information to bust any criminal activity, but ends up out in the field, in Moscow to be exact, when he has to follow up a bad feeling he has about Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh trying on a Russian accent).
Data analysis may not sound like the most exciting thing to base an action thriller on, I agree. Thankfully, that's only the springboard to launch Ryan into an entertaining adventure. The script, by Adam Cozad and David Koepp, stays true to the central character, despite the youthful make-over, with the focus on intelligence rather than strength or fighting ability (although, it must be said, the first big challenge for Ryan when he enters Moscow is a physical one).
As well as portraying the villain of the piece, Branagh directs the film. He has shown over the years that he can work with popular entertainment just as easily as he can work with Shakespeare, and he puts together a nice slice of entertainment here for those who enjoy cat and mouse scenarios. The opening sequences aren't exactly full of promise, but that's only a minor wobble. Things improve considerably once we get past the obligatory detailing of just how much inner steel Jack Ryan has.
Pine is an actor I've enjoyed watching for years now, and he slips into the role of Ryan comfortably enough. Knightley isn't as well-served by the script, although she tries her best in a role that adds up to little more than "love interest who may need extra protection when things start to get more heated". Branagh is a lot of fun, even if he dances in and out of moments that feel like parody. His villain is the kind of cool, intelligent, cultured individual often seen mentally sparring James Bond, and that's no bad thing when it's done as well as it is here. Costner also has fun, just in a different way. He's the typical mentor here, giving Ryan the details without ever bullshitting him, and also helping the young man when he's struggling to deal with incidents that he remembers from his own past experiences.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may not have set the box office alight, but don't let that put you off. In fact, we should all know by now that box office figures are no sure-fire indicator of quality. The only reason I mention the performance of this movie here is to say that I hope we still get another instalment with these characters in place. I'd definitely see it, and I hope that others feel the same way.
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