Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" (2014)

Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh
Written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 105 Minutes

John P. "Jack" Ryan (Chris Pine) is an analyst working for a major Wall Street firm. He's a former Marine, injured in Afghanistan, who had a long and painful road recovering.

He also secretly works for the CIA. Recruited by Tom Harper (Kevin Costner), it is Ryan's job to monitor the economy for any sign of funding being funneled to terrorists. When Ryan uncovers some strange doings by a Russian company partnered with his own, he heads to Moscow to investigate further.

But Ryan's enemies know he's on their trail, and upon arriving at his hotel, Ryan is attacked by the man who's supposed to be his bodyguard. Barely surviving, Ryan contacts the CIA and meets up with Harper who convinces him he needs to stay the course and help him figure out exactly what is going on at the company headed by Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh).

Ryan begins to suspect that Cheverin is planning some kind of terror attack designed to cripple the United States economy. But Ryan is thrown when his girlfriend Kathy (Keira Knightley) appears in Moscow to surprise him. Now she's drawn into the same dangerous world Ryan finds himself thrust into, trying to avert a devastating blow to America that would kill thousands.

"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" comes on the heels of the death of Tom Clancy, who created the Ryan character, in October of 2012. It's unfortunate, then, that such a middling film bears Clancy's famous name. "Jack Ryan" isn't a bad film, but it's just so very generic that it's hard to care all that much.

The weakest part of the film, bar none, is the script. The cast is stellar, direction by Kenneth Branagh is sharp, but the story just feels slight and uninspired. Pacing is an issue in the sense that the film just sort of rockets along without really much examination of the events that are transpiring. It feels like every aspect of the story, from the characters to any of the themes or ideas presented, are just given the most basic lip service and then we're gone.

The cast are all game. Chris Pine has charisma to spare, and always feels believable as an analyst who is also capable of being a fighter. During the action sequences, Ryan is in over his head, but he also knows how to take care of himself thanks to his experience as a Marine. But like Ben Affleck before him, there's something about this film that keeps him from feeling like... Jack Ryan. Now, of course, Ryan himself isn't a character who is easily defined. He's been played previously by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Affleck, and each one of those actors did it their own way. Pine does so here, and he's very much just... Chris Pine, as each of those actors previously never really created a Jack Ryan character on screen that is definitive.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing; Pine is always a pleasure to watch, as those other actors often are. But it means that the Jack Ryan character never really feels as iconic or special as perhaps he should. There really aren't too many "economic analyst" heroes out there, so Ryan has a lot of potential that feels rarely capitalized upon on screen.

The best role in the movie belongs to Kevin Costner, who plays the part of Ryan's handler, Harper. He imbues the character with something that feels meatier and more real. While each of the characters gets a moment that gives us hints at their backstory and motivations, Harper is the one who feels like the most interesting character in the movie. He consoles Ryan after Ryan kills his would-be assassin, but he also pushes him to continue the job. He protects Ryan, but he's also the one pushing him into more danger. It's an interesting concept and Costner plays it with just the right mixture of boss, friend, and father figure and he gets it right.

Branagh plays the villain well enough, but like the other characters, it's all performance without a lot of writing to back it up. He's a very cold presence, only really warming up at all during his dinner scene with Knightley. For the most part, he glowers and delivers his standard villain dialogue. He feels threatening enough, but there's little reason given for why Cheverin is doing any of this. Of course, we're told that he's working for elements of the Russian government with anti-American interests, but... so what? Why does he do that? Is it because he was wounded during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s? The film gives hints, but isn't particularly clear.

Branagh also directs the film, and he proves once again that he's a talented director. In less sure hands, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" wouldn't be nearly as watchable as it is. It moves along at a brisk pace, perhaps to its own detriment, but is never boring. It just feels slight, but it's always attractive and moving. The action sequences pop, you're never lost wondering what's going on. But like the script, they don't feel particularly memorable in any fashion. You've seen all these chases before.

In the end, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is a thoroughly generic action thriller with a few good flourishes, kept afloat by good casting and direction.