The character of Jack Ryan, the government analyst turned everything from field agent to CIA Deputy Director in the famous novel series by recently passed author Tom Clancy, has had the luxury of being played by some of Hollywood’s best male leads, via Alec Baldwin (1990’s “The Hunt For Red October“, twice by Harrison Ford (1992’s “Patriot Games” and 1994’s “Clear And Present Danger“), and Ben Affleck (2002’s “The Sum of All Fears“). Not too shabby of a line-up to bring this titular character to life. So when I first heard they were bringing Dr. Ryan back after an almost 12-year absence, I must confess, I was a bit leery. And then they changed the title from simply “Jack Ryan” to “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”, it honestly sounded a tad cheesy. But then I saw the cast, the director, and the trailer…..I quickly let the whole title thing fade away. And in seeing the film, I was NOT disappointed. In fact, I was more than pleasantly surprised.
While not directly based on any of the books themselves, we find the story back at the beginning, as Ryan (Chris Pine) is on college campus in London on a particularly fateful day in U.S. history. Having seen the images of the tragedy on a London newscast and obviously being profoundly affected by it, we fast forward several years to see Ryan on a mission while serving in the Marine Corp, something we had always heard about but never got to really see in any form. Still, in this brief glimpse into this part of Jack’s life, we see that he has been already using his very high intellect to do in-depth threat assessments that no one seems to listen to, before yet another circumstance that, suffice it to say, ultimately becomes the catalyst that alters the course of his career from that point on. Seen as a hero and having had to be taken back to the States and into necessary rehab at a well-known medical facility, this is where he has his first encounters with two individuals who play a major part in this direction-changing period: his soon-to-be girlfriend, Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) who was in charge of his therapy and finally agrees to dinner with him provided he can successfully finish his rehab, and a mysterious CIA operative Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) who becomes the one to convince Ryan to service his country in a new way, by becoming an analyst with their Financial unit that tracks trends in monetary transactions that could be flagged as possible terror-funding, but do it clandestinely by being placed at a company on Wall Street who has no idea who Jack is actually working for.
Fast forward another several years and we are introduced to the films main antagonist, Viktor Cherevin (director Kenneth Branagh), who along with a top Minister in the Kremlin, are hatching a plan to ruin the United States economically through a terrorist attack in New York. Back at the company Ryan is “employed” at, he stumbles upon a series of high dollar transactions that seen suspicious and in bringing it to the attention of his “boss” Rob Behringer (Colm Feore). Of course this information then gets into Harper’s hands, who promptly sends Ryan to Moscow, despite Jack’s protestations that he IS just an analyst. Once in Moscow, trouble does not take long to surface, and Ryan finds himself in a very unexpected jam, which after it is handled and Ryan’s panic attack is diffused, he realizes that he is no longer just an analyst. This of course ALSO throws things into a loop with Cathy, who ends up not just accepting what he does (that whole scene is quite entertaining actually, thanks to a “3’s a crowd” moment with Harper) but ends up getting involved with the mission to stop Cherevin from successfully executing his plot.
What ensues from the point of reaching Moscow is a continent-jumping tale that I felt let you in on all the pieces of the puzzle, then let’s you sit back and watch the craziness unfold. The moment of Jack’s “awakening” to the dangers that wait for him in the field was really effective for me, taking him through all the possible emotions one would experience when having this happen to you for the first time. Even after that incident, Pine still keeps the character grounded in the fact that he still gets nervous when doing aspects of the mission, yet can also convincingly convey the growing confidence and resolve that befits a Marine in a combat situation, especially when it involves Cathy being put in harms way with Cherevin. Costner always brings a certain presence to his characters that I enjoy, and Harper is no exception. Part cocky, yet not devoid of heart, while also being deadly serious about WHAT he does and WHY he does it, Harper is one who WILL get the job done no matter what. It would also be accurate to say that, overall, Knightley’s Cathy and Branagh’s Cherevin are by no means original in how they’re written, but I still enjoy Keira’s doe-eyed innocence and Branagh’s Russian accent and almost emotionless delivery as a cold-hearted villain. To sum it up, the film is very entertaining, and that is exactly what I wanted from it.
Seeing as the estimates put the film debuting in 4th place behind two new films and one recently released, I will be curious to see how this movie ultimately does at the box office domestically, whether today’s audience will support this new attempt in revival, and hence warrant another entry into this potentially rebooted franchise. But only time and movie-going audiences will determine that. In the meantime, I feel it was a very worthwhile return for the Jack Ryan character, and I would be another feather in Pine’s hat if he were to commandeer TWO successful properties with multiple films. As always, this is all for YOUR consideration and comment. Thanks for reading!