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As I suspected, I was probably the youngest person of a small audience in attendance for this film. Proof to me, that the majority of Jack Ryan’s fans are of an older generation. When the film was over, I overheard few audience members mention points of the film that were predictable to them and such. However, there was also at least one person applauding following the film’s resolution, which says to me that predictability in the case of Jack Ryan, was not as bad as it might seem.
Shadow Recruit was packaged as a reboot/origin story, designed to re-imagine the character of Jack Ryan as a young man living in the technologically dominated 21st century. How different would the character be from how older audience members remember him? How different would the journey that he is on be from anything that came before? The answer to that question is not much different. Is that a bad thing? Not really. It just doesn’t really make one feel as if one has experienced anything particularly riveting. That said, I wasn’t disappointed with my experience.
By not using any particular novel from Tom Clancy’s series as its source material, the filmmakers had essentially a clean canvas to start from. This provided them with the potential to say something new about the character and his world. I think they were somewhat successful in doing that. The new layers we find in the character this time around are nice touches. For instance, in the attacks of 9/11, we are given a compelling reason for Ryan to show his patriotism and serve his country. In thinking about the earlier Jack Ryan films, you can see how such a devastating event could be what drives him to become the boy scout who is all about gleefully serving his country. That is the Jack Ryan we know.
Chris Pine does a fine job as the new Jack Ryan. He manages to bring a human quality to the role, which feels very authentic and I appreciated that. He wasn’t some young, arrogant know-it-all, who somehow convinced himself that he could be as good a CIA operative as he was an analyst. Pine does great work capturing Ryan’s fear and uncertainty accurately enough for me to want to care about his plight and how he can figure his way out of it.
Kevin Costner was also great in his turn as the battle-tested mentor, Thomas Harper. His performance is a grounded one that is equal parts hardened operative and relatively warm father figure. He provides a solid base for Pine to play off of and build from. Sir Kenneth Branagh also does his part in bringing a level of gravitas to his role as the lead heavy, Viktor Cherevin. It’s a true delight to watch an actor absolutely devouring a part and Branagh is doing just that, while managing to present us with a sensitive man with a soul of a poet. Keira Knightley does some strong work here as Cathy Muller however, I was disappointed by how underutilized she was. Though she was relegated to the age old love-interest conventions, I did feel that one of her strongest moments is in a dinner scene with Branagh’s Cherevin. The two played very well off of one another.
I thought the direction of this film was actually very well done. It was almost scientific, which I imagine it has to be for any actor who is directing a film they also star in. Branagh shows just how much he knows and understands the character of Jack Ryan and how to successfully bring him into our more cynical world without taking away the traits that make Ryan who he is. He also gets the formula of a film like this. He knows how much suspense is necessary, how much of the expository stuff is needed to show and how to get it in a satisfying way from his actors, particularly Pine, who is basically the Sherlock Holmes here and does a lot of explaining. That Branagh understands the brisk pacing of this kind of movie and how to balance that with the right amount of moments of downtime is also key to the effective execution of a movie like this. He really got in there and kept the ship steady as it were, while offering a solid turn as the villain.
There is a lot of good in this film. There is solid action and suspense, stellar performances from its cast and it is smarter than the run-of-the-mill action flick. There just wasn’t enough fresh and innovative here. Much of it is formulaic and the film wraps up everything a little too perfectly with that pink bow on top. In spite of its predictability, this movie is a solid start to what looks to be a series of new Jack Ryan films. Now that he’s back and firmly established, maybe those involved with the next film will feel like they can take some risks with Jack Ryan.