Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit review: CIA you again

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Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit green light Chris Pine

Why reboot remains a question, but this is a smart popcorn thriller with a surprisingly sensitive performance by Chris Pine, and a wonderfully badass one by Kevin Costner.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Costner; love Branagh as an actor and director; edging toward being a fan of Pine

I’m “biast” (con): don’t see the need for a reboot of this character

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s no Hunt for Red October. And there was no need to reboot Tom Clancy’s signature character. (Brand recognition may be a good marketing decision, but it’s rarely a good creative one.) That said, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a smart popcorn thriller that whips well-trod tropes into more than passably diverting movie funtimes. Ryan’s backstory has been updated for the 20-teens — now he had to learn to walk again after being shot down in a helicopter in Afghanistan in 2003, because he’d joined the Marines in a fit of patriotism after 9/11 — but he’s still a CIA analyst and desk jockey pushed by circumstances into becoming a field operative. New-Jack’s specialty is high finance, and he’s deep undercover at a Wall Street brokerage house when he unearths some potential shenanigans at a Russian partner company headed up by Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie), whom Chris Pine, as Ryan, discovers having a blast in villain mode when he jets off to Moscow for an audit. Branagh directs, too, and proves once again — as he first did with Thor a few years back — that he is a fantastic action director who brings a freshness to the familiar: here he manages to make people pecking away on computers suspenseful, which is a rare filmmaking talent indeed. Themes of economic terrorism hit as close to home as Cold War nuclear fears once did, and while Shadow Recruit is at least as much an action movie as a suspense thriller, it’s a bracing change of stereotype to have more brains than brawn at the center; Ryan is a PhD, and his smarts are his driving force. Even more refreshing is a hero who is not unaffected by having to kill. Ryan may be a trained and very capable soldier, but he’s far from a machine, and Pine (Star Trek Into Darkness) — who continues to impress me more and more as an actor — brings out a startlingly sensitive side in the character; notice how Ryan’s hands shake after one unsettling and unexpected encounter with violence. The whole cast is fab; Kevin Costner (Man of Steel) is a steely badass as Ryan’s CIA boss, and Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina) as Ryan’s girlfriend and later practically a fellow agent recruited on the fly is so adept it’s easy to see that this could have been called Jackie Ryan. The finale gets a little bit too damsel-in-distress-ish and ticking-time-bomby, but long before then, I was wholly won over.

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Mon, Jan 20, 2014 5:51pm

Pine comes over to me in the Star Trek films as an overgrown adolescent; I was quite surprised to learn that he was born in 1980. That he’s pulled off a good performance here suggests he has better acting chops than I’d suspected.

Seems to me there’s not much of Jack Ryan left here except the name, but given how mad Clancy’s later books became it’s probably high time to split off this character from his literary origins.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Mon, Jan 20, 2014 6:07pm

But Kirk IS an overgrown adolescent. :->

I was mostly surprised that Pine didn’t actively annoy me in Trek. But this is the first time I’ve actually been impressed with him.

I just discovered that he is the son of Robert Pine. I loved him on *CHiPs.* :->

Mon, Jan 20, 2014 7:50pm

I’m glad this one’s good… I keep meaning to go see it but I’ll probably still just wait for a home viewing opportunity.

reply to  KingNewbs
Tue, May 13, 2014 4:08pm

Oh, hello Past Me, I just wanted to inform you that Future You (Present Me) ((soon to be Past Me?)) watched this last night and it was pretty good! Couple weird plot holes, but I enjoyed 98% of it!

Mon, Jan 20, 2014 9:51pm

Sounds like a lot of New-Jack’s background is straight out of Clancy. His Ryan did have to learn how to walk again after a helo crash (not in Afghanistan, just a training exercise went wrong)–remember the line in Red October when the Thompson admiral is giving the carrier captain Ryan’s background that he learned from Jim Greer? “That kid did his fourth year from a hospital bed–you might want to cut him some slack.” Also, Clancy’s character ended up raking in the bucks in the financial world between being invalided out of the Marines and getting into the CIA (to make his FIL happy, IIRC). He also had the PhD, which is why he was a prof at the Naval Academy in between consulting gigs with the CIA before he got sucked in full-time at the end of Patriot Games.

I’ve read those early books waaaay too many times to be able to reel off that info right away!! Too bad the only decent movie made from the books was Red October–sounds like I might have to check out this one to see if it’s at least better than Patriot Games or Clear and Present Danger was.

(Oh, and I had no idea Chris Pine’s dad was Robert Pine! That is so cool–I always loved his work on tv.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Kathy_A
Mon, Jan 20, 2014 10:26pm

His Ryan did have to learn how to walk again after a helo crash (not in Afghanistan, just a training exercise went wrong)

Yup, that’s what I was referring to.

Tue, Jan 21, 2014 12:08am

Branagh … proves once again — as he first did with Thor a few years back — that he is a fantastic action director

First did with Thor? I’d thought he was pretty great at directing action sequences as far back as Henry V. And I seem to recall some riveting suspense/thriller actiony scenes in Dead Again.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Tue, Jan 21, 2014 8:48am

He’s always been a great director, but he’d never really done a full-on action flick before *Thor.*

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
Thu, Jan 23, 2014 7:37pm

This is really quite good. No, it’s not Red October, but Red October a several other things going for it (it was directed by John McTiernan at the height of his career, it was as much Ramius’s/Sean Connery’s story as it was Ryan’s). But Chris Pine and Kevin Costner are both excellent choices for their roles. Kenneth Branagh is a much better action director than Philip Noyce. It hits all the right notes for the franchise. The “Jack Ryan is the smartest guy in the room” scene is probably the best one so far, thanks to Pine kinetic acting.

Kinda-spoiler Warning:

The “You’re a Marine. That’s why you’re still alive” exchange is an excellent example for all screenwriters of how a single, well-placed line of dialog can justify your entire story.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Mon, Jan 27, 2014 7:10pm

Yeah, that phone conversation is pretty incredible.

Damian Barajas
Damian Barajas
Thu, Jan 23, 2014 9:00pm

I just watched the movie last night, its a good enough thriller that it kept me entertained but somehow I couldn’t stop thinking that this film was likely made, or at least co-opted as propaganda when:


Ryan is in the command center having escaped Russia and they’re trying to locate the would be terrorists by going through the massive surveillance database conveniently available to catch terrorists, and they, unlike real life, actually use it to catch terrorists.
I mean,
Ryan actually says that the bad guys would be too smart to use facebook, reddit and others. This leads us to the real kicker, which is that they found the target not by going through the terrorists facebook but by the surveillance of other people that was then linked back to them by analysts working the data.

Which is conveniently just what Big brother wants everybody to believe.


It sounds a bit paranoid I know, but not altogether implausible these days. I’m sorry I didn’t go to see the wolf of wall street now.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Damian Barajas
Mon, Jan 27, 2014 7:11pm

You’re not wrong. I thought the same thing. Except we have been seeing this sort of thing in movies for at least 20 years.