Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character has always been something Hollywood gets equal parts right and wrong. On the one hand he’s a profoundly intelligent character who winds up in action sequences trying to save the world. On the other hand he’s not quite Jason Bourne, which is what studios have attempted to turn Ryan into. They’ve usually managed to get either the character (and the actor playing him) correct or the type of film correct; neither both at the same time. With Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit they’ve managed to do both by making Ryan a young analyst as opposed to a middle aged man.
When we first meet Ryan (Chris Pine) he’s a grad student at the London School of Economics on 9/11. Wanting to join the newfound War on Terror immediately thereafter, Ryan finds himself nearly crippled after a helicopter crash that finishes his military career in Afghanistan. Determined to walk again with a med student (Kiera Knightley) who he winds up engaged to, Ryan’s world class economics mind comes into the crosshairs of a CIA handler (Kevin Costner) who recruits him into the agency.
An analyst working behind the scenes to spot terrorist funding, Ryan stumbles into a Russian conspiracy to bring down the dollar after a terrorist attack headed up by a Russian megalomaniac (Kenneth Branagh). Jack has to save the day, of course, as there’s a real chance the world economy could collapse. Throw in his CIA secret, which he can’t tell his fiancée, and Ryan is a complicated man with a double life his fiancée presumes is an affair he’s trying to hide.
It’s an interesting reboot that feels odd as a January release because this feels like a summer tentpole of an action film, not a throwaway action film bound to hit DVD by March. Branagh, better known for being the premier auteur of Shakespeare in the cinema, has taken what he learned off of Thor and crafted it into a sleek action thriller. This is an action thriller that hits every note it’s supposed to, and not one more, as it’s about as trimmed down an action film as it can be. There is nothing wasted, story wise, from the plot.
The film also has a solid performance from Chris Pine, the fourth man to have played Jack Ryan on screen. None have been definitive, of course, but Ryan does a good job of making the role his own. Ryan’s a believer, someone who doesn’t believe in only going part way in things, and Pine does an admirable job stepping into some fairly large shoes. Jack Ryan is a literary institution who’s been played by some fairly high profile actors over the years but this isn’t Pine’s first rodeo doing this. Stepping into James T. Kirk’s shoes in the Star Trek reboot must’ve made it easier for him and it doesn’t hurt that he’s got a terrific cast to work with.
Kevin Costner is slowly settling into a character actor’s dream role of being “the mentor” to younger actors right now. Pine needs someone with the gravitas of Costner to establish credibility in the role early. He’s too young to be the hardened, grizzled Ryan of the novels (as he can’t be older than 30 in the film and Pine is young looking 33) and as such moments in the film where he’s flustered in the moment make sense. This is Ryan as the young hero, not 100% confident but 100% skilled, needing someone to develop him into the sort of operative he could be.
This would’ve made a great prequel to the Bourne series in a way; Jason Bourne is a fascinating character but David Webb becoming Bourne is a great tale in and of itself perhaps. That’s what this is the start of: Jack Ryan becoming the sort of action hero he’s seemingly fated to be. It’s why “Jack Ryan: The Early Years” makes sense for a title of this film as well.
And that’s the film’s main problem. Jack Ryan hasn’t become the man he needs to be yet … but he’s getting there. He’s still a work in progress and the film is a good setup for a dynamite sequel, nothing more. It’s a solid action piece that could wind up being the best action film of the year when all is said and done if 2014 repeats what 2013 did, as well.
Director: Kenneth Branagh Writers: Adam Cozad and David Koepp, based on characters created by Tom Clancy Notable Cast: Chris Pine, Kiera Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Alec Utgoff
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.