Flashy lead characters and modern technology are the foundation that “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” stands on as it adds another layer to the popular character that the late Tom Clancy developed in a series of bestselling novels. If you’ve seen the earlier Jack Ryan films, this one will feel fresher and less linear. If you haven’t, it might just feel like a mediocre attempt at one of the Jason Bourne movies.
Unlike the first four titles released quite a few years ago, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is not based on a Clancy novel. Instead, it works to present a fresh approach while keeping some ties to the original films and character. It is entertaining enough with its international flair, but doesn’t really develop its characters (good or bad) along the way, leaving a slightly hollow shell to absorb the brunt of the audience’s curiosity. Add this to some less than consistent pacing and, well, you’ve got a good film that could have been an excellent one.
Before watching, it will be beneficial to remove yourself from any preconceived notions about the prior films in this series. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is not trying to mimic or replicate, and that becomes pretty evident early on. It does work hard to ground itself early on, but there simply isn’t enough meat on the bone to provide adequate nourishment so you will be satisfied. There aren’t any references to the previous films, and Clancy himself only gets a nod during the credits (the film is dedicated to him, as he passed away during its post-production on October 1, 2013). I think it succeeds in blazing a new trail to some degree, but also feels choppy to the point where you step back and wonder how much more investment you’ll need to get a return.
We meet Ryan (Chris Pine) at the London School of Economics on 9/11. Immediately after viewing the devastation, he enlists in the Marines and is sent to Afghanistan. After his helicopter is shot down, he lands in rehab and befriends a cute young doctor, Cathy (Keira Knightley). As his rehab wraps up, a CIA official named Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) approaches him with an offer to finish his Ph.D and work on Wall Street as a covert analyst looking for financial transactions that don’t exactly line up.
Fast forward ten years to find Ryan and Cathy engaged, and a really nasty Russian tycoon named Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film) standing behind some suspicious assets. Ryan goes to investigate, but nearly gets assassinated and throws up a cry for help. As it turns out, Harper is there to save the day and help him devise a plan to unearth Cherevin’s intentions. But, out of the blue, Cathy shows up to surprise him. The rest of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” depicts the trio working to foil a terrorist plot in the United States after having downloaded corruption files in Russia that detail the ill intentions Ryan initially expected.
At a mere 105 minutes, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is ambitious. We get no background on Ryan as a person, but instead are meant to see him exclusively as a soldier and servant. In fact, we don’t really ever understand why Harper wants Ryan in his corner so badly (although, given Ryan’s record, we can sort of infer that he saw some pretty excellent skills). It seems like he is hell bent on getting Ryan to do the dirty work because it’s the right thing to do for his country, but instead of digging a little bit further, Ryan is subordinate and acts without thinking. Perhaps this is the real reason he was so hotly desired.
My biggest issue with “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is the pacing and the timing. After telling us absolutely nothing about the main character in the beginning, we have to sit through him and Cathy having a silly argument right before the major infiltration in Russia. Harper moderates the heated debate and looks like he wants to punch them both in the head. The whole thing is meant to add character placement and development, but instead it just feels completely out of place and like it slows the entire film down from a good pace to a snail’s pace. Then we speed up, but slow down during the transition back to the United States. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” shifts into a human drama at precisely the wrong time.
Now, in a positive light, we do have solid performances from our three leads. Pine does a good job morphing from boring doctoral student to top notch Marine back to boring desk job with a secret agenda. He is able to blend charisma with wit and street smarts, and comes into his own well. He’s slightly less cocky here than in the new “Star Trek” films, but that fits the character he’s assigned to. Costner is solid, firm and doesn’t miss a beat. He’s not freezing cold, per se, but he does have enough of a rough around the edges exterior that you get the vibe he’d be better to have in your corner should a war erupt unexpectedly. Knightley is elegant and cool for the most part. She’s smart, too, and isn’t gullible enough to let her partner’s finicky mannerisms trick her. As a trio, they work well, with a nice balance between strong personalities, youth, experience and compassion.
There are good things here, but probably not enough to make “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” a blockbuster film going experience. It has its moments, but they’re more limited than they are accessible. I enjoyed it on the surface, but, as they often say, beauty is only skin deep.
The film is pretty well articulated visually with its 1.85:1 1080p High Definition video transfer. There are quite a few long range visual pans with Moscow and New York splattered up against the screen as a backdrop for the film’s action sequences, and the cities look as they should with buildings and monuments flanking them. The colors are for the most part bright and crisp, with film grain having a below average role throughout. The editing isn’t nearly as crisp as something like a Bourne film or “Quantum of Solace,” but it is solid. Visually, it’s an easy title to take in.
I didn’t have any issues with the film’s English 7.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack. Natural background noise does a good job filling its role here, in everything from car chases to fist fights to elegant dinners. No real issues in picking up spoken words, and the sound is appropriate for the genre. As with any good action film’s soundtrack, it enhances the on screen dynamics rather than takes away from them. Additional audio choices include French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1s, while subtitle choices are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
A nice offering here, starting with a standard definition DVD and digital HD copy of the film. The Blu-ray disc is where you’ll find an audio commentary by director/co-star Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, four featurettes, plus deleted and extended scenes (optional commentary here, too). It’s a healthy, above average offering.
A Final Word:
It’s worth taking in once, but I don’t think it has a whole lot of replay value. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” isn’t bad, but it just isn’t all that great, either. Be your own judge. At least you’ll be entertained.