This isn’t the first feature film to feature Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan and Chris Pine isn’t the first actor to fill his shoes. We have previously had Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck in various films across the years, but Pine makes a competent first outing as the war-hero turned CIA spy.
Smoothly directed by Kenneth Branagh, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit succeeds in being the most purely enjoyable and uncomplicated action thriller to grace the silver screen for a long time. It isn’t brilliant or particularly sophisticated, but as a piece of pure escapism you could do a lot worse.
Instead of continuing the character of Ryan, here screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp make this a back-to-basics tale where we see how Ryan became a member of the CIA (recruited by a gravel-voiced agent played by Kevin Costner). We also get more of his homelife, with Keira Knightley playing his romantic partner.
There is an essence of Cold-war-hangover running throughout the plot, with Branagh himself turning in a juicy and deliciously nasty performance as a Russian villain with a plot to drag the US into poverty and depression. You could write a thesis on American paranoia using this film as a case-study.
I’m being quite generous to this clichéd and occasionally silly film. Some scenes play out like they are being ticked off an action-movie check-list, and Keira Knightley is a better actor than her role allows her to be, but sometimes a movie can succeed through sheer enthusiasm and commitment to telling a gripping story. This one certainly does.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), directed by Kenneth Branagh, is released in the UK by Paramount Pictures, Certificate 12A.