Although Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is set in 2013, it is essentially a fairly typical propagandist Cold War American good guys versus Russian bad guys action thriller movie.
The film is fast-paced and keeps the audience interested, from the initial helicopter incident in Afghanistan through to the final, inevitable car chase involving Jack Ryan and the Russian evil-doer.
Kenneth Branagh convincingly plays Viktor Cherevin, the Russian economic power-broker who threatens to bring down the American economy, and he also directs the film in a way that keeps the plot ticking over and brings some depth to each character. Patrick Doyle’s music is stirring and drives the action forward.
Jack Ryan is the young, intelligent economics graduate who is recruited by the CIA and works for a Wall Street firm with Russian connections, until he is required to travel to Moscow to audit a Russian company which is seen to have dark and dangerous underlying motives.
Chris Pine is appropriately cast as Ryan, the handsome, athletic, powerfully built hero who not only has courage, as displayed in war, but brains enough to gain a PhD in economics. Keira Knightley is Cathy, the medical student who assists him with his physical rehabilitation and is then living with him 10 years later.
Pine and Knightley are an attractive couple, and having a girlfriend/fiancée innocently involved and caught up in the dangerous world of espionage adds some interest, if not credibility. Knightley is genuine and quite delightful as the woman left alone by a man with a busy and mysterious career, but she slips too easily and comfortably into her new role in assisting her CIA husband and his covert operations.
Kevin Costner is understated and yet a significant presence as veteran CIA agent William Harper. Branagh’s direction has us wondering if he is really on Ryan’s side or whether he is exploiting him with no regard for his welfare.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit establishes the danger of terrorism in the opening scenes which are set at the time of the twin towers being destroyed in 9/11. Conscious of recent negative press about the CIA, the writers of this film have a young Ryan questioning its ethical behaviour, which is resolved by Harper saying his unit and his team wouldn’t be involved in any of that – it’s other CIA guys.
Tom Clancy’s character of Jack Ryan has been played by other actors and in previous decades, yet this film suggests he was originally recruited in 2003. Perhaps this is to set up the possibility of a Jack Ryan being there for any future or current American conflicts, meaning that once again Hollywood will perpetuate the image that American politicians, businessmen and CIA agents play by the rules (and access international secure data in seconds in mobile vans), while other countries, entrepreneurs and operatives lie, cheat and deceive in order to bring about the downfall of the US.
If you are able to suspend your disbelief about all of these elements, then you will find Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit to be well-directed, action-packed and entertaining.