Friday, June 27, 2014

Guest Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

By ScottDS

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the latest movie based on Tom Clancy’s decorated war hero turned intelligence analyst. This tale tells an origin story in which Ryan, an economics major in London, joins the Marines after 9/11, gets injured, and is later recruited into the CIA. It’s an entertaining yarn and I can think of worse ways to spend 106 minutes... but it’s entirely derivative and does nothing new.

We open on a young Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) at the London School of Economics. The date is September 11th, 2001 and after witnessing the horror on TV, the patriotic Ryan decides to join the Marines. After being injured in a helicopter attack, he faces a long road to recovery, ably assisted by a sweet medical student named Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley). He also attracts the interest of mysterious CIA official Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who makes him an offer of employment. Fast-forward 10 years and Ryan is working as a covert CIA analyst at a Wall Street stock brokerage where he’s tasked with monitoring financial activity that could hint at terrorist activity. He notices some hidden accounts that are all controlled by Russian tycoon Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) and subsequently flies to Russia to investigate.
After nearly getting killed by a goon masquerading as a bodyguard, Ryan meets with Cherevin and finds out that all the problem assets have been sold so there is nothing for Ryan to audit. Ryan meets with Harper and explains that Cherevin plans to send the U.S. economy into another depression, following a staged terrorist attack. Cathy, now Ryan’s fiancé, unexpectedly shows up, hoping to go on a vacation with Ryan after his work is complete. Ryan admits that he’s in the CIA and she joins him at dinner with Cherevin where she serves as a diversion so Ryan can sneak into Cherevin’s office. They discover that Cherevin’s son Aleksandr is in the U.S. as a sleeper agent and that the target is Wall Street. In New York, the authorities evacuate the area while Ryan spots a decoy police van and gives chase. He crashes it into the East River with Aleksandr still on board. Ryan escapes and the bomb explodes under water. Cherevin is killed by his superiors.

I’m betting some of this sounded very familiar to most of you. Take a large bowl, add one part The Americans, one part True Lies, two parts Mission: Impossible, three parts Casino Royale, and stir. It’s a pleasant movie and there’s nothing technically wrong with it, but it’s so forgettable that when I pitched the idea to Andrew, he confused it with Jack Reacher. And I almost labeled my Word file “Jack Ryan: Shadow Warrior”! Kenneth Branagh directs from a script by newcomer Adam Cozad and veteran David Koepp (who can do good work, but then turns around and does crap like Indy and the Crystal Skull). I’ve never read any of Clancy’s books so my only knowledge comes from the movies. However, from what I’ve gathered, this origin story is (somewhat!) faithful, despite not being based on any particular Clancy story. It's simply been updated for current events.
Chris Pine makes a good Jack Ryan. He’s certainly likable and charismatic though he looks a tad young for the part, but I guess that’s the point. (And the less said about his eyebrows, the better.) Keira Knightley is fine in the Jamie Lee Curtis “housewife who makes a discovery and gets to join the fun” role. And thankfully, this movie doesn’t play the damsel in distress card, though there is an effective scene wherein Cherevin threatens her with death by lightbulb. Can’t say I’ve seen that before. And while I’ve never been a member of the anti-Kevin Costner bandwagon, he’s definitely on autopilot in this movie. There’s a thin line between stoic and just plain tired and Costner walks right on the middle of it. Branagh makes a good villain, though there’s also a noticeable lack of memorable supporting characters (heroes and villains). Hell, in The Hunt for Red October, there are four or five memorable guys just on the U.S.S. Dallas!
There might be a lesson here. While I say the movie isn’t memorable, it doesn’t mean the movie is bad. (The bland videogame title and paint-by-numbers advertising didn’t help.) Given the current state of action movies, we’ve been conditioned to expect certain things: larger than life battles, copious CGI, insane stunts that no hero would survive, etc. (You know, just like the last Die Hard!) So when a movie doesn’t have all these things and plays it smaller, it risks coming off as half-assed. I actually had a similar observation when I saw Jack Reacher – not every movie needs to involve the end of the world! As Godard once said, all you need is a girl and a gun. And it’s worth asking: in this “gritty” post-Bourne, post-Dark Knight world, is there a place for an everyman like Jack Ryan? I’d like to think there is, though I don’t believe this movie was successful enough to jumpstart a franchise.
As per usual, tech credits are all top-notch (though the score is forgettable and can’t hold a candle to the music in the previous movies). It’s always interesting to see how different filmmakers interpret such tropes as “tycoon’s office” and “computer interface.” Every keystroke makes a beep, cell reception is lost (in elevators and underground, so it’s kinda believable), and Ryan figures out Cherevin’s master plan in about five minutes utilizing phone records, social security numbers, and a forged death certificate. It’s pattern recognition, but it’s also partially a sign of the CSI effect. In other words, these things often take a while! But it’s always entertaining to see characters piece together clues and watch a scheme come together. Ryan uses a gun and his fists, but he uses his brains first and that’s something we need more of. Ryan is able to spot the decoy police van because of a streak of wet paint indicating it’s been recently dressed up. Coincidence? Yeah. But at this point in the movie, we buy it.

If I had paid 10 bucks to see this at the theater, I might’ve been disappointed. But it’s certainly worth a dollar rental at Redbox… and it’s also worth waiting to see if it pops up on Netflix (a lot of Paramount movies seem to show up after six months or so). It lacks the style and fun of Red October and the harder edge of the Harrison Ford movies, but it’s a decent (if unoriginal) thriller with some smarts. And unlike the Bourne movies, it dispenses with the dour “woe is me” routine. That’s worth at least a dollar!

“The Russians don’t take a dump without a plan.” (I couldn’t think of a memorable line from this movie, but it still applies!)

27 comments:

Kit said...

Did not see this one.
Anyway, I think the best Jack Ryan actor was Alec Baldwin since he captured the everyman character that Tom Clancy was going for. And Hunt for Red October is the best movie. :-)

Oh, In the books Jack Ryan was not a war hero. In fact, in the books he only spent 6 months in the Marine Corps until a nasty back injury forced him out.

Outlaw13 said...

Kit got there already, but Jack Ryan was never a spy he was an analyst. It reminds me of the film Clear and Present Danger in the book the Ryan character never sets foot outside of DC. In the film Ryan's character is hanging off helicopters. I get it they have a big name actor playing Ryan and people "want" to see him, but they kind of miss why the books were popular in the first place. Clark was the spy...these movies should be about Clark.

Oh well, I guess that's why the phrase; "the book was better" came about.

ScottDS said...

Kit -

As I said, it's a decent films, but don't expect to remember it after a few days.

Agreed about Red October - it's one of those movies where everything clicks. It's just great to look at and there are about a dozen memorable supporting characters who all get a moment - no small feat.

With John McTiernan out of jail, maybe Paramount can hire him to make another Tom Clancy film - I doubt it. (I'd rather see him make one last Die Hard for Fox.)

ScottDS said...

Outlaw -

I know he was never a spy (I had to make sure I didn't refer to him as such). In fact, just about the only thing Sum of All Fears got right was the John Clark character, as played by the always-entertaining Liev Schreiber. If they want to compete with the Bond and Bourne franchises, Paramount might as well just make a John Clark movie.

tryanmax said...

Thanks, Scott! I'll keep this in mind when I'm scratching my head at the Redbox. (Or keep an eye on Netflix.)

As an aside, I thought Jack Reacher was pretty good. I was a little perturbed by it as I watched it--some of the events were a little too convenient if you ask me--but it has managed to stick in my memory in a good way, so it must've done something right. Especially when I compare to the number of movies where I'm like, "Did I see that? I don't know if I saw that. Was that--? Oh yeah, I guess I did see that one."

ScottDS said...

tryanmax -

You're welcome!

I liked Jack Reacher - it was pleasant and... inconsequential. (I haven't read any of those books either.) As I say above, not every action movie needs the hero to save the world in a flurry of CGI.

If you're at Redbox, you can avoid Monuments Men - the critics were right about that one. Despite a can't-miss premise, it's just a bland, flat movie, with bad attempts at humor and characters we don't care much about.

Kit said...

Scott,

"If they want to compete with the Bond and Bourne franchises, Paramount might as well just make a John Clark movie."
Without Remorse, Rainbow Six. Two books almost exclusively about John Clark.

Voz said...

I liked Shadow Recruit, although the name left me wanting more...Pine did fine as Ryan, and yes it was nice to see him using his brain instead of brawn the whole time because he's an analyst...I've read all the books and thought it did a good job of the origins for the character...although in the books he worked on Wall Street for himself not the CIA and was wealthy because of it and then went into teaching before joining CIA. I enjoyed Branagh as the villain but you're right about there not being any standout characters in the film...it felt small whereas Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger felt bigger and more urgent when it came to plot. Rainbow Six was one of his best novels...hence all the games made about it. I noticed Jack Reacher brought up several times...I love that movie and actually just watched it again the other night. I think it is one of the most faithful adaptations of the source material I've ever seen. And even after reading all the books in the Reacher series thus far and anxiously waiting for the next, Cruise embodied the character in his intensity...he didn't need to be the 6'8" 230lb guy from the books. McQuarrie did a great job of directing.

ScottDS said...

Voz -

I believe McQuarrie will be doing the next Mission: Impossible movie - should be a fun ride!

Agreed about Pine and the title - the movie just felt very contained, despite taking place half-way across the world. Red October felt bigger, despite taking place mostly on submarines!

I'd like to read the books one day, at least the four that were turned into films (with varying degrees of success). For this review, I perused a few Wikipedia articles, including the one on the Jack Ryan character - this movie seemed to cover the bases, but obviously it isn't 100%

ScottDS said...

Kit -

At the end of the day, who knows why they choose Book A over Book B to adapt? For this movie, they could've done any number of things, but they did an original origin story instead.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks for a nice review! :D

I haven't seen this one, so I can't really comment on it except that I'm kind over Chris Pine as an actor.

I have seen Jack Reacher and I thought it was ok. It was a typical B Tom Cruise movie -- "everyman" with superhero abilities fights generic bad guys for good purpose. I did feel the whole set up was stolen, however. Oh well.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I can't disagree about Jack Reacher, but I did find it enjoyable, though I have no need to see it again.

I like Pine, but it's looking like he needs a better agent. I'd like to see him in an ensemble where he's supporting a bigger star.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, He reminds me of Ethan Hawke in a way -- a guy who looks great on paper, but can't quite bring the goods to the degree it takes to be the lead.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I was listening to a podcast recently and someone used Val Kilmer as an example of an actor with leading man looks and talent who actually works better as a supporting player. Perhaps this will be Pine's thing.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Interesting comparison and I can definitely see that. While I like Kilmer a lot, he's struggled to lead movies and really his best work has been as a supporting actor.

Voz said...

Kilmer was great in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

ScottDS said...

Voz -

I agree. This podcast was discussing Batman Forever. It was Kevin Smith and journalist Mark Bernardin from The Hollywood Reporter and it was Bernardin who made the comparison, saying Kilmer worked great as a foil for Robert Downey Jr. and perhaps that is where his strength is.

Anonymous said...

This movie to me is a lot like Jack Reacher, both movies were unoffensive for action movies. Just as I couldn't rave about any things either movie did, I couldn't really complain about any thing either the movie did. They were not crap, they were not great, they were enjoyable, that is better than bad and not quite as great.

And FYI Val Kilmer was best in Tombstone "I'll be your huckleberry".

Scott.

ScottDS said...

Scott -

Agreed re: Tombstone! I only saw the film in its entirety for the first time a few years ago. I thought it was good, but the last 10 minutes made it great. And whenever I meet "the one," I'll probably be saying to her the same thing Kurt Russell says to Dana Delaney. :-)

And I've learned over the years that the vast majority of movies fall into this category: unoffensive, not crap, not great.

Kit said...

"And I've learned over the years that the vast majority of movies fall into this category: unoffensive, not crap, not great."

Yep.

Tennessee Jed said...

Thanks, Scott. I have been away this week, and missed your review. I am a huge fan of the Clancy books. Outlaw is essentially right. Jack "senior" was an analysts who on a couple of occasions got involved more directly with the rough stuff. The character, as portrayed by Alec Baldwin (before he bacame such a "dick") was the most faithful to the character as conceived by Clancy. To get around that in later books, Jack Ryan senior became P.O.T.U.S. and his son became a covert operations officer. I have no great problems with Pine. He is, after all, a leading man, and essentially is replacing guys like Cruise and Ford. They are movie stars rather than great actors. The issue here is whether the plot is any good, and it sounds like it could be like a typical Bond movie. Good summertime popcorn get out of the heat kind of movie. I do think film makers need to pay at least some attention to the books if they want to use the character. There is a great core Clancy audience, but they don't want you to say it is Jack Ryan when it's really Jack Reacher

ScottDS said...

Jed -

You're welcome. As I said above, I've never read any of the books, though I should at least read Red October one of these days. I like the Ford movies: Patriot Games is fun but Clear and Present Danger drags a little too much for me. And The Sum of All Fears has its moments (namely the John Clark scenes) but it's kinda blah.

And I don't know why they would go with an original - and horribly-titled - story when there's a wealth of source material out there. (Ironically, Star Trek Into Darkness had the opposite problem where they bastardized the source material instead of doing an original story!)

Better yet, they could've made Pine Jack Ryan Jr.!

Tennessee Jed said...

I agree completely with that assessment. Best selling authors hate to lose control of their characters and franchise, but not all changes are bad. Books can do development of character and plot that just don't work in a 2 hour film.

Voz said...

I am in agreement with you on making Chris Pine Jack Jr. That way you wouldn't have to retcon any back story and modernize it since all the novels with Jack Jr. take place in the present day and they're almost as good as the older novels Clancy wrote on his own before he started co-writing more recently up until his death.

ScottDS said...

Voz -

I didn't even know about the Jack Jr. novels until I started researching for this review. Now it makes the studio's decision even dumber in retrospect!

Tennessee Jed said...

Of course who knows whether Clancy had granted access to that character. It would have made sense. Mr. Clark, and Ding were both getting older, too, so Jack and his cousin were the new generation.

Thomas Watson said...

Sorry Chris Pine, no matter what, you'll never live up to Harrison Ford. That guy's shoes are just too big to fill.

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