Smart and Fast ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ Entertains

New York Post, 15 January 2014
By Kyle Smith

In “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” we learn that Greenwich Village’s lefty haven Film Forum is the favorite place in town for CIA agents to swap files, which is as I always suspected. Next we’ll hear about how Rumsfeld and Cheney plotted the Iraq War from the restrooms at CBGB, and it’s well known that Henry Kissinger frequented Studio 54, which is where he and Cher first got the idea to manufacture the oil crisis.

Despite the occasional hard-to-believe moment, the reboot of the 1990s franchise (later doomed by Ben Affleck, before the next “Batman” turns him into a serial franchise killer) is soundly structured, smart and fast, with a plausible central scenario, several gripping moments and well-wrought dialogue. If it isn’t quite as gritty or intelligent as the Bourne movies it is — as Ryan responds when asked if he’s still “intact” after nearly taking a few unexpected bullets — close enough.

“Jack Ryan” is also — a major point of relief with me — considerably less frivolous than most of the Bond and “Mission: Impossible” films about what it might be like to be an international man of mystery. If the star can brush everything off without even unknotting his tie, and crack jokes as he goes, so much for intensity. And Chris Pine is much less blockish here than in “Star Trek,” with his callow quality serving him well as an often-terrified newbie economics Ph.D. and ex-Marine combatant recruited by a CIA operative (Kevin Costner) to follow terrorism’s money trail while undercover at a Wall Street firm.

Under pressure, Pine gets red-faced and sweats instead of quips as his investigation of Russian banking transactions leads him to a cold-blooded Moscow financier (a chilling Kenneth Branagh, also the film’s director) who is engineering a simultaneous 9/11-style bombing and financial attack.

Jack’s girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley), the doctor who helped him recover after he was nearly killed fighting in Afghanistan, thinks he’s having an affair when she finds that Film Forum ticket stub and declines to marry him out of general suspicion — but he can’t tell anyone but his spouse about his secret life, so she can’t know. Even when she finds a firearm in his room, though, she considers that evidence of cheating, which seems obtuse in a feminine way: Honey, your man needs only one pistol to fool around, not two.

Knightley, though occasionally annoying (her patented gape-smile is getting old), anchors perhaps the best scene in the movie when, having been drawn into the plot, she must divert Branagh’s Cherevin by talking about Russian literature while her boyfriend downloads every villainous file from the evil mainframe. She’s a doctor, not a kickboxer, and the movie doesn’t burn off credibility by giving her ridiculous stunts, while the tender moments with Jack lay down a solid foundation for him to risk it all and tear after her in one of the admirably few, but potent, action scenes.

Keeping things nimble and clever (the financial scam makes scary sense, and how many blockbusters seamlessly work in themes from novelist Mikhail Lermontov?) brings the director total redemption after the unfortunate, nearly campy “Thor.” Branagh, that recovering Shakespearean, now looks like a reliable hand at le cinema du popcorn.

Equal credit goes to the script — based on Tom Clancy’s characters — by newcomer Adam Cozad and veteran David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”). An exchange worthy of John le Carré comes when Jack mentions he hurt his back in Afghanistan and Cherevin says icily, “Me too.” Two words tie together two eras and make clear why Cherevin hates America, for its support of the rebels during the Soviet invasion. Perhaps an even better line is the Costner character’s response to Ryan’s mildly insane (but perfectly correct) series of computations that lead to the conclusion that there’s a sleeper agent in Pennsylvania. Nah, says Costner: “Nobody blows up Pennsylvania.”

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