Jack Ryan: I’m out of my element is what I am.
In the twelve years since Tom Clancy’s beloved fictional character, Jack Ryan, has last been seen on celluloid, there have been no less than three radical reboots of other treasured action film franchises. The Bourne, Bond, and Star Trek series (two of the three, interestingly enough, based on cherished best-selling book series), have been dusted off and newly invigorated with brand new lead actors who have each brought a unique, energizing drive to their franchises. The plot of these respective films remained much the same, and yet the brilliant direction and acting in the films made the audience feel as if they were viewing something magically fresh and new again. The resurrection of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, however, feels lethargic, brazenly plagiarizes key scenes from Bond film, CASINO ROYALE, and, most emphatically, should have been kept buried.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT opens, (with the first of two unnecessary prologues), on September 11, 2001 with economics student, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), literally and figuratively jolted awake after learning of the Twin Towers attack. He immediately enlists in the Marines in order to serve in Afghanistan, but his helicopter is tragically hit in a rocket fire attack, and he must spend months recuperating from his life-threatening injuries. With a tough no-nonsense approach and a hint of flirtation, medical student, Cathy (Keira Knightley), nurses him back to fighting form, while the pair is being closely watched from a distance by CIA agent, William Harper (Kevin Costner). During Ryan’s recovery phase, Harper convinces him to complete his financial education, and to use his sharp knowledge to assist the CIA in revealing covert funding for post 9/11 terrorist organizations.
Fast forward a few years and Ryan is now working as a financial analyst mole for the CIA in one of Wall Street’s largest trading firms. He astutely observes that a significant number of large accounts, all linked to mysterious Soviet business mogul, Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), are being hidden from the public trading system, and he is sent to Moscow by Harper as a field operative in order to scrutinize Cherevin’s operation further. The film’s most taut and exhilarating action sequence occurs when Ryan arrives at his hotel room in Moscow, and he must fight to the death with a hired assassin. For an espionage thriller with minimal thrills, the scene gives the audience a much needed buzz of adrenaline that the film is never able to replicate.
Chris Pine had previously rejuvenated the Star Trek film franchise by mimicking William Shatner’s branded mannerisms, alpha male machismo and carnal magnetism. With Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck having brought their own distinctive spin to the Jack Ryan character over the life span of the franchise, Pine cannot fall back on aping any one performance, and simply relies on his good looks (and yes, ladies and gay gents, his piercing blue eyes) as his performance safety net. Here, however, his usually vivid eyes are dull and it often feels like he, (much like all of his costars), is sleepwalking through the proceedings. In fact, every actor, (including the blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Mikhail Baryshnikov), is sorely miscast in this film. One assumes director, Kenneth Branagh, who began his career directing and acting in Shakespearean adaptations, cast himself as well as second-fiddles, Knightley and Colm Feore (who, coincidentally, appeared in a different role in previous Ryan canon film, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS) only for the titillating discussions about Shakespearean and Shakespearean-like classic texts while the camera wasn’t rolling. All involved here have been part of more polished book/play adaptations and they deserve better material, as does Jack Ryan.