‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the fifth film using Tom Clancy’s hero. It is also a reboot of the franchise, becoming an origins story. Ironically, the writer actually uses bits thrown into the “origin” book in the series, Patriot Games, as the opening section. It works, as does the movie. It has some big flaws: A number of elements are beyond belief, such as the CIA using someone totally untried as a way of staving off a nationwide disaster. But the film is entertaining.
Ryan (Chris Pine) is first shown as a graduate student during 9/11. We see him as a Marine lieutenant badly injured in Afghanistan. Following that, he goes through physical therapy with Cathy Muller (Keira Knightly) and is recruited into the CIA as an “undercover financial analyst” by grizzled veteran Cmdr. Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). The film jumps 10 years and Ryan is living with Muller and doing well on Wall Street while secretly tracing terrorist financing. He discovers a whole group of money market accounts from Russia that he cannot access one day, large enough to be of concern, and his CIA handlers order him to suggest to his boss that he go to Moscow for an audit. All of this makes his girlfriend suspicious that he’s having an affair.
Things get wild in Moscow as his bodyguard attempts to kill him and he winds up meeting his old recruiter, Cmdr. Harper. He meets with Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film) and quickly is over his head in terms of espionage. To complicate matters, Muller decided to drop in on him and winds up in the middle of things, eventually kidnapped. Ryan manages some extraordinary espionage, followed by an amazing car chase through Moscow and topped off by riding a motorcycle after a terrorist through lower Manhattan. But, as expected, he saves the country.
The plot is essentially ludicrous. The notion that a single terrorist attack combined with a selloff of even billions in U.S. currency would permanently take down the country is not realistic (currency trading tops $4 trillion a day). Second, Ryan has gotten almost no training but manages to take on a huge bodyguard, slide into a heavily guarded and secured business area, survive a gun battle with trained thugs, drive in stunt-driver fashion through Moscow, figure out where the key terrorist has been living as well as the villain’s relationship with other agents and his boss, figure out where the key bomb is hidden and ride through incredible Manhattan obstacles to be able to stop the terrorists. Imagine what he could have done if they actually spent a few months training him.
But the action moves swiftly, and Pine plays an excellent hero. He is fit, handsome and charming. Costner was great as the handler. He got a chance to toss out lines almost as good as he did back in Bull Durham. At one point, while Ryan and Muller are bickering, he simply interrupts, saying, “This is geopolitics, not couples counseling.”
Branagh makes his character far more complex than the usual villain. Knightly, however, is miscast. Part of it is because the script makes her seem like a bit of an idiot, and she has no chemistry at all with Pine. Her real chemistry seems to be over dinner with Cherevin, where she is supposed to charm him. She seems far more attracted to him than to her fiancé, despite the fact that soon after, Cherevin will kidnap and threaten to torture her to death.
Though the film moves quickly, it is a bit choppy, moving from Britain on 9/11, to Afghanistan, then to physical therapy, and then jumping 10 years. Then we see a few New York scenes, followed by a series of set pieces in Moscow that take up about half the movie and then, finally, back to America.
But sitting back and watching the film, I had no time to worry about details. This is a January treat. Many movies coming out this month are ones that are not considered good enough for the end of the previous year’s top films. But this one is fun, and certainly worth the price of admission.