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A Serviceable Thriller

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit effectively reboots character for new era despite flaws

Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Photo by Anatoliy Vorobev/Paramount Pictures
Kevin Costner in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Kevin Costner in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Photo by David Lee/Paramount Pictures
Kenneth Branagh in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Kenneth Branagh in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Photo by Larry Horricks/Paramount Pictures

Once upon a time, the character of Jack Ryan — the creation of recently deceased author Tom Clancy — was a hot commodity. Books featuring Ryan were adapted into four separate films starring three A-list actors: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck.

But the last attempt to continue the franchise came way back in 2002; 12 years later, do enough people remember Jack Ryan fondly enough to justify the latest reboot, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit?

 Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh play their respective roles with enough verve to keep the film humming even through its more preposterous segments.

Aside from the name, little about the character will be familiar to fans this go-round. Played by Captain Kirk Chris Pine, he’s now reimagined as a post-9/11 whiz kid who’s recruited by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) of the CIA after a stint with the Marines in Afghanistan.

Inserted into a Wall Street firm to track financial dealings that could potentially indicate a future attack, Ryan discovers some massive hidden accounts held by the company of Russian oligarch Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). Soon Ryan is jetting off to Moscow to figure out if there’s a threat and how he can help stop it.

Story-wise, the film is mostly innocuous. Potentially complicated elements are made simple, for the most part, but that approach also leads to confusion. Branagh, who also directs, and writers Adam Cozad and David Koepp seem to forget various plot points that they brought up, making the survival of certain characters one of convenience as opposed to logic.

Branagh pulls a smoke-and-mirrors trick when it comes to action scenes, especially ones involving hand-to-hand combat. Instead of letting the actors or stunt people have at it, Branagh employs furious edits that imply violence without ever actually showing anything. Some may be fooled, but it’s actually a lazy technique that lessens the excitement instead of heightening it.

Even with its faults, Shadow Recruit remains a serviceable thriller to the end, thanks to the performances of Pine, Costner and Branagh. Each plays his respective role with enough verve to keep the film humming even through its more preposterous segments.

Not so successful is Keira Knightley, who plays Ryan’s girlfriend, Cathy. She was shoehorned into the plot and affects a dreadful American accent that is distracting every time she appears on screen.

The movie comes out during a time of year when mediocrity is expected of films, but Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit manages to rise above expectations. It may not be enough to make Ryan the next James Bond or Jason Bourne, but he was probably never going to be anyway.

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