Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Nonso Anozie, David Paymer, Colm Feore, Gemma Chan, Karen David, Lee Nicholas Harris
RunTime: 1 hr 48 mins
Rating: PG13 (Brief Coarse Language & Violence)
Released By: UIP
Official Website: http://www.shadowrecruitmovie.com/
Opening Day: 16 January 2014
Synopsis: Based on the Jack Ryan character created by bestselling author Tom Clancy, the film is a contemporary action thriller set in the present day. The story follows young Jack, a covert CIA analyst, as he uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.
Harrison Ford has played him. So has Alec Baldwin. And most recently, Ben Affleck. But in the latest reboot of Tom Clancy’s most famous big-screen character, it is ‘Star Trek’s’ Chris Pine who has the honour of playing the heroic intelligence analyst Jack Ryan. The titular similarity aside, this fifth incarnation of the character sees a very different Ryan from that which you might be used to.
Taking full advantage of contemporary geopolitical realities, writers Adam Cozard and David Koepp make the effort to detail Ryan’s formative years before his employment by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In an extended prologue therefore, Ryan is an undergrad at the London School of Economics when the Twin Towers are hit in 2001, and subsequently a United States Marine stationed in Afghanistan just two years later who is badly injured when the helicopter he is in is hit by terrorists. It is also with the latter that Ryan meets then-US Navy Commander William Harper (Kevin Costner), who recruits him for the CIA on account of his brilliant analytical mind and stations him in the heart of Wall Street.
Picking up ten years after in present day, the film imagines an international espionage plot driven by the Russians to destabilise the United States economy and thereby trigger anarchy within the nation. The chief villain? A sinister Russian oligarch by the name of Viktor Cherevin, played with icy menace by Kenneth Branagh. Code-named ‘Lamentations’ after the book in the Bible, it consists of a coordinated effort to stage a terrorist attack on American soil right before crashing the United States stock market with a massive sale of Government bonds.
Frankly speaking, it’s hard to buy the ex-Cold War rival or even certain old-school factions within the Kremlin as terrorists waging a war on America; certainly, the time the Tom Clancy novels were published seem a different era from the one we currently live in. Nonetheless, if you can suspend your disbelief at the implausibility of the scenario, there’s still much to enjoy in this briskly directed movie by none other than Branagh himself.
Further committing himself to big-budget blockbuster territory following Marvel’s ‘Thor’, Branagh clearly relishes the opportunity to stage a Bond-style spy thriller. Once again saddled with the responsibility of staging a franchise opener, Branagh acquits himself admirably by carefully balancing character dynamics with action spectacle. Indeed, he gives his titular character a moral centre with the addition of a love interest Cathy (Keira Knightley), whom Jack meets very early on into the film and whom gets a surprisingly significant part to play even as he is called into the line of duty. Jack also gets much tutelage and professional advice from William, whose mentor-rookie relationship is well-played with nuance and subtlety.
Most of the action Branagh reserves for the second half of the movie, as Jack is welcomed in Moscow by a burly Ugandan working for Viktor who tries to assassinate him shortly after in his hotel room. But the real change in tempo comes with Jack breaking into Viktor’s offices while Cathy distracts Viktor at dinner nearby, a nail-biting exercise in suspense that is immediately followed by a thrilling car chase down the streets of Moscow. Trust us when we say that the last third of the movie pretty much unfolds at a breakneck pace, never quite letting up on the adrenaline until Jack defuses the terrorist threat back home in downtown New York.
Pine does a reasonably convincing job playing the rookie forced to rely on his instincts when he is suddenly thrust into the field, but the real surprise here is Costner. The veteran actor brings real gravitas to his supporting part as Jack’s grizzled mentor, complementing Jack’s wide-eyed routine perfectly - and we’d also add that the two make a compelling pair we’d like to see return in the inevitable sequel. Same goes for Pine and Knightley actually, because it is in Jack’s interactions with his fiancé Cathy and his mentor William that we relate so much more to his character.
If the verdict on this ultimately lies with whether it successfully kickstarts new possibilities for the Jack Ryan franchise, then we’d say that the answer is an unequivocal yes. It might not reach the same heights as the latest addition to the Bond franchise (which arguably was the best of Bond), but it is a nicely done espionage thriller that recycles some of the classic elements of the genre for a taut and tense escapist adventure. Add to that some solid acting turns by the four-hander of Pine, Costner, Branagh and Knightley, and you can be assured of a well-acted piece of popcorn entertainment that’s as good for summer as it is this time of year.
(Brisk, tense and gripping, this reboot of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a solid spy thriller that breathes new life into the character)
Review by Gabriel Chong