In the wake of 9/11, Phd student Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) drops out of college and joins the military. After he is shot down over Afghanistan two years later, Ryan is recruited by the CIA to work on Wall Street as an analyst to uncover potential terrorist organisations. When one company comes to the fore, run by Victor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), Ryan is sent to Moscow to investigate. Things take a turn, however, when Ryan’s suspicious fiancée Cathy (Kiera Knightley) follows him on his trip.
There have been plenty of movies centred around Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan – including The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and The Sum of All Fears – and Chris Pine is the latest actor to step into the role. Pine does fine as Ryan, but is hardly given a chance to reinvent the espionage thriller wheel. There is little doubt that Pine is charming on screen, and while the audience is on his side, we are also given a character who we know to be deeply flawed, although we are never given a chance to experience this for ourselves, leaving Pine’s version of Ryan a thin, familiar but likeable character.
Kiera Knightley tackles the American accent for her role as Cathy and does remarkably well. Even though all of the character’s suspicions about her fiancé are justified, she comes off as insecure and incredibly whiny, even as we are told that she is a strong woman. Director Kenneth Branagh takes on the role of the villain, but does little with Cherevin, other than make him stereotypical Russian bad guy. Branagh does not so much chew the scenery as ignore it, which means we are left with a villain who falls more than a little flat. Kevin Costner carries on his trend of playing likeable father figures after last year’s Man of Steel. Costner is strong in the role and his bond with Ryan is one of the great things about the film.
The story by Adam Cozad and David Koepp feels very much like a throwback to action films set in the aftermath of the Cold War; once again the villains are Russians and their target is America. For the most part, the dialogue is expository and weak, and the story feels like one we have seen done better in the past.
Director Kenneth Branagh proved with Thor that he was well able to make an engaging and thrilling action film, but with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, it feels as though the director has taken a step back. The fight scenes are choreographed well, but the pacing is a mess, which means the film feels much longer than it is. Many of the characters feel thin and badly realised, the tension is never truly ramped up and the action does little to make up for this. As well as this, Branagh is definitely the weak link in terms of acting.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit feels like a throwback to the action films of the late 1980s, and not always in a good way. Chris Pine manages ably, as does Kevin Costner, but Knightley is given a character who is more than a little annoying and Branagh lets the entire film down with his performance. In the end, the film is moderately entertaining; carried, as it is, by the action sequences, but there is nothing new or remarkably engaging here.