Review: 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' is familiar but still exciting

Posted at 01/17/2014 12:15 PM | Updated as of 01/17/2014 12:19 PM

Jack Ryan was a young Marine who was injured during a mission when his helicopter crashed. Upon completing his therapy for his injury, Ryan was conscripted by Thomas Harper to be an operative of the CIA because of his keen analytic acumen specifically in economics and finance.

10 years later, while working in Wall Street, Ryan uncovers some suspicious transactions by a Russian firm which may spell economic disaster Stateside. Ryan goes to Moscow supposedly to do some auditing work. But upon his arrival, it was apparent that this mission was not only going to be about punching numbers into a computer.

Because of his previous work in "This is War", I knew Chris Pine could play a very good spy. Though Pine did not really look like he had a PhD degree, and a lot of his financial talk just flew over my head, his action sequences were very gritty and exhilarating. He also has great chemistry Keira Knightley, the actress who plays Ryan's charming fiancé Dr. Cathy Muller. Her suspicions of an affair unexpectedly gets her involved with Ryan's dangerous mission.

It was good to see Kevin Costner back on screen in a substantial role again. He was older of course, but still looking good. His character Harper may feel like any other mentor/supervisor role in other espionage films, but Costner played him very well. Too bad he was not really given any special moment which can be considered really memorable.

The villain of the film Viktor Cherevin though was another matter altogether. Kenneth Branagh creates a strong antagonist with his subtly sinister portrayal of the Russian businessman with terrorism, economic and otherwise, on his mind. He completely transformed into his role very convincingly, with no trace of British-ness.

This particular Jack Ryan did not feel like this was going to be the same man in the other older films where we knew the character Jack Ryan first, like "Hunt for Red October" (played by Alec Baldwin), "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger" (played by Harrison Ford) or even "Sum of All Fears" (played by Ben Affleck). This film only has the character Jack Ryan by author Tom Clancy, but he did not write this story at all.

This film had an oddly generic feel like we have seen this story in some form before. Even if this was set several years post-9/11, it had that dated Cold War (a la classic James Bond) feel especially when the action shifted to Moscow. Fortunately though, despite those gripes, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is still a very exciting action-packed thriller.

The director is also Kenneth Branagh, whom we usually associate with Shakespearian productions. He follows up his mainstream directorial work on the first "Thor" film with this one, with much skill. The camera work was excellent especially for the gunfights and car chases. That sequence of firm infiltration was very astutely edited with much tension, impossible as that could have been in real life.

It was Branagh's energetic story-telling and Pine's charismatic portrayal as Ryan that turned the potentially mediocre script around and created a really effective and entertaining spy thriller, successfully rebooting the character for another possible film franchise. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."