Spies and Russia
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
I’m sure you’ve never seen a movie about spies and Russia. In that extremely rare case, I present to you Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, based on characters created by Tom Clancy. Starring Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, and Kevin Costner, Shadow Recruit is a sort of reboot for the Jack Ryan character after the so-so The Sum of All Fears that unfortunately graced my television screen in 2002 for two hours too many. Shadow Recruit is a lot better, but more so for the first half. It begins and runs in such a daring fashion that you wonder why this wasn’t a summer release, where it could catch great word of mouth. Then arrives a certain point where the movie falls off a cliff. It’s not bad from that point on, but it’s sort of like when you open a box of chocolates that has ten pictures of various chocolates on the label. You buy the box of chocolates in the first place because you really like seven out of the ten chocolates and assume they’ll be the majority of the box. You chomp through half a box with chardonnay because it’s just that type of evening before getting to a point where the other half is full of cherry cordials, marshmallow truffles, and some other chocolate that you’re just not sure of. So you just lose the excitement you had before just sort of accepting what just happened and going back to the wine.
The plot is sort of an origin story for the character because God knows we need more of those. But it moves along at a really good, brisk pace. Jack was in combat in Afghanistan, where he was wounded in battle. He gets recruited into the CIA, with Costner playing a sort of handler. Knightley gets more to do than the promo material would suggest and the scene where she discovers that he works for the CIA is a fun one. The mission to Russia is sort of been there, done that (I would love if a spy movie went to a more obscure country like Kyrgyzstan for the sake or originality if nothing else), but it’s executed at least initially well enough that it feels all right. Then arrives the plane moment, which if you watch the movie you’ll know what I mean, and everything goes to hell. It is so annoying because it’s possible the most contrived moment in a movie about spies and Russia, and that’s saying something. It’s not even a low-key plane that would have added stakes to the entire thing, it’s enormously well-equipped and you just sort of roll your eyes incessantly. There are some good moments in the second half, but they just can’t match the brilliance of the first.
The spy craft in the first half is so well done, it reminded me of some of the best scenes in Bond, Bourne, and Homeland and that’s a high compliment. The danger that Jack is placed into feels visceral and real, considering that he’s an analyst and basically has zero in field experience. There’s a neat parallel that soldiers don’t necessarily become the best spies and there’s a true tension that director Kenneth Branagh brings to the table that’s admirable. We know Jack isn’t going to die, but it feels like in the first half that the film would go there and it’s a propulsive tension that the film earns. Branagh directs this very well and after this and Thor, he’s proven that he can handle action flicks pretty well. Chris Pine is really good as the titular character and if there’s a sequel I would be glad to see him reprise his roll. Knightley and Costner outshine the material they’re given and Branagh’s Russian accent is pretty good. At the end of the day, it’s a passable movie that could have been so, so much more. But it’s a decent effort and worth an afternoon watch with homemade popcorn. If there’s another installment, they have a few lessons to learn.
Title: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Produced by: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mace Neufeld, David Barron, Mark Vahradian
Screenplay by: Adam Cozad, David Koepp
Based On: Characters created by Tom Clancy
Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley
Music: Patrick Doyle
Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos
Editing: Martin Walsh
Production Company: Skydance Productions, di Bonaventura Productions, Mace Neufeld Productions, Buckaroo Entertainment, Etalon Film, Translux
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Dates: January 15, 2014 (Philippines), January 17, 2014 (United States)
Image Courtesy: She Knows