It’s been more than a decade since CIA analyst Jack Ryan last appeared on the big screen. The character — created by military thriller author Tom Clancy — has been played, at times, by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, and was last seen in the somewhat tepidly received “The Sum of All Fears,” starring Ben Affleck.
Director Kenneth Branagh seeks to reboot the franchise and bring a fresh perspective to the character with “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” now in theaters. He mostly succeeds, crafting an old-fashioned spy thriller that’s entertaining, if not ground-breaking.
The film opens with a briskly moving prologue, starting with the moment Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) learns about the 9/11 terrorist attacks while studying at a university. He enlists in the military, is injured in a helicopter attack, and learns to walk again with the help of Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), who later becomes his fiancée.
Ryan’s knack for crunching numbers and handling himself well in combat catches the attention of CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who recruits him to serve as an analyst for the CIA. Ryan is mostly working behind the scenes until he uncovers some suspicious financial activity tracing back to Russia. He’s sent into the field for the first time, where he quickly learns he may be in over his head — especially when it comes to outsmarting a Russian terrorist, Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh), who is planning an attack on Wall Street.
Pine brings a sense of easy charisma to the role of Jack Ryan, whom Costner’s character jokingly refers to at one point as “a Boy Scout on a field trip.” He’s smart and tough, but also believably human. There’s a moment right after his first kill in the field where the full weight of what he’s just done hits him: he has a look of terror in his eyes, and he can’t stop his hands from shaking.
It’s fun to see Branagh as the icy villain Cheverin, and Costner plays Agent Harper with a brusque efficiency. It took me a bit to get used to Knightley’s American accent, and her character’s sudden arrival in Russia — a surprise trip to visit her fiancé — does stretch the limits of believability. However, it’s forgivable since it leads to one of the most entertaining parts of the movie: watching Cathy match wits with Cheverin over dinner in Moscow.
Although the film is entertaining and the cast is great, I do wish the writers had given the film a more original, meatier script. I would have liked to see Branagh try harder to push the limits of the spy/thriller genre, and I wish the writers had given Ryan a deeper, more intricate case to solve. The film doesn’t attain the same level of tension or style as recent spy flicks “Skyfall” or “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” Still, it’s a fun, welcome addition to the normally lackluster January release schedule, and I’d like to see Pine take on the role of Jack Ryan again.