Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit': Movie Review
Latest thriller about author Tom Clancy's hero shows his early days with the CIA; Chris Pine is fine but unsurprising in the role

New York Daily News, 16 January 2014

Jack Ryan is a character who has survived hopscotch casting. Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst hero has been played, with varying results, by Alec Baldwin in “The Hunt for Red October,” Harrison Ford in “Clear and Present Danger” and “Patriot Games,” and Ben Affleck in “The Sum of All Fears.”

Now it’s time for “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” starring Chris Pine, who has already been Captain Kirk in the latest round of “Star Trek” movies. So for Pine, and us, this is par for the course. You know what you’re in for as you walk into the theater.

Indeed, director Kenneth Branagh’s movie is a pretty standard-issue reboot. Like “Casino Royale,” “Shadow Recruit” is set in the present while envisioning its well-known protagonist as a newbie. Pine’s Ryan is introduced as a London School of Economics student on the day the twin towers fell.

Inspired to serve in Afghanistan, Ryan is seriously wounded during a helicopter mortar attack in 2003. Recovering from his spine and leg injuries at Walter Reed hospital, the tactician soldier catches the eye of a pretty doctor (Keira Knightley) and impresses Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), a naval officer recruiting for the CIA. Ryan’s deft analyses of patterns and threats earns him his spy-guy badge.

Ten years later, armed with a higher degree, Ryan has a gig in New York as a CIA mole looking for terrorists’ financial footprints. His so-called “desk job” is interrupted when he spots something sneaky in Russian stock trades. Turns out that a sadistic Kremlin insider (played by Branagh) hopes to bring the U.S. economy down just before an embedded operative sets off a bomb in Lower Manhattan. It’s up to Ryan and Harper to stop the attack.

That’s all numbingly familiar from other thrillers, and while it leads to a few good chases, there’s also a dull mid-film scene of urgent data encryption. But the script, by genre master David Koepp — credited with Adam Cozad — has a pleasing symmetry (Ryan’s cross-globe mission leads him back to Wall Street). And the film certainly makes up in verve what it lacks in imagination.

Branagh, taking advantage of his experience helming 2011’s “Thor,” shows an allegiance to the genre he’s working in; both as director and co-star, he pours on the menace. And while Knightley’s American accent sounds too Valley Girl, Costner is a steadying force.

Baldwin’s interpretation of Ryan remains the best, yet Pine, for what he does, doesn’t drop the ball. He needs, though, to get more original characters on his résumé or risk looking like a human restart button. Bumped from its Christmastime release date, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” arrives in the shadow of the Oscar-season films. Thankfully, this thriller has found a safe house in movie Siberia, better known by its code name — January.

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