Film Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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Plot: When CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) goes to investigate financial accounts in Moscow, he uncovers a terrorist plot to disable the US economy, and comes to blows with a powerful Russian business man (Kenneth Branagh).

The studio could have easily just said, “Make this Jason Bourne,” but with Kenneth Branagh in the directing chair, the character of Jack Ryan actually becomes his own entity, and that was very refreshing to see. While the film is frustrating at times, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a solid, tight little spy caper, and a lot of the credit must be given to Chris Pine.

Photo Credit: Larry Horricks/Paramount Pictures
Photo Credit: Larry Horricks/Paramount Pictures

Pine is an actor I’ve always liked, but other than the Star Trek films, he’s been in absolute crap. This is a good first step in him getting better roles other than Captain James T. Kirk. Pine brings a lot of likability and personality to Jack Ryan. The script also does a good job of giving him some actual character development, which we usually don’t see in movies like this. I really liked the first image of Ryan sleeping on the bench at a college in London with economic books cluttered around him. I got a clear sense of who this guy was.

The film also does a great job at depicting the change Ryan goes through after he makes his first kill, ala James Bond in Casino Royale. Pine shows a lot of subtlety, and the direction is very strong in how Branagh portrays the overall atmosphere of the scene. But they also don’t dwell on it too much, and show you that Ryan has a duty to his country. He has to move on, and move on quickly. Kevin Costner does a great job as the mentor, Thomas Harper, and him and Pine work well together.

Pine also has good chemistry with Keira Knightley who plays Cathy Muller, the love interest to Ryan. The character is severely underwritten, but Knightley is able to elevate the material with her charismatic performance. While the romantic subplot works just fine, it can definitely get very cheesy at times.

Photo: Larry Horricks, Paramount Pictures
Photo: Larry Horricks, Paramount Pictures

Aside from directing duties, Kenneth Branagh also plays the main villain, Viktor Cherevin. He’s pretty menacing, and I enjoyed the interplay between him and Ryan. The villains overall though act really dumb. They try and justify why Viktor makes some of the mistakes he does, but he still comes off as a moderate threat.

As great as Branagh was in front of the camera, his directing is truly what adds a lot to this film. You definitely feel the level of suspense that is necessary in the spy-esque scenes. There’s a sequence where Ryan is having dinner with Viktor, and he has to plant something in Viktor’s office building just across the street at the same time. It’s a well-planned out scene. But as much as I loved the espionage moments, it’s the action that unfortunately brings this film down significantly, as my old filmmaking nemesis returns…

Branagh is a great director, so he should know better then to incorporate SHAKY CAM into his movie! Why Kenneth, why!? If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know how much I loathe the shaky cam. If you’re new, here’s the bottom-line: You can’t tell what’s happening…it sucks. I swear that one of these days I’m going to delve into some serious research and find out if using shaky cam is just a cheaper way of filming action, and if audiences actually do enjoy it. WHY DO DIRECTORS KEEP DOING IT! Also, the sound quality seemed very poor. I’m not a sound mixer, but it seemed awfully loud, and about as annoying as a chalk board scratch.

Photo Credit: Larry Horricks, Paramount Pictures
Photo Credit: Larry Horricks, Paramount Pictures

Despite some of the cheesiness and action deficiencies, this was a lean well-crafted CIA caper with strong performances. And while I wish the action was filmed better, I appreciate that it didn’t go crazy super duper Fast and Furious level of ridiculousness. I’m not much of a spy fan, so the fact that I was never bored during this really says a lot.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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