FROM THE DEN AT WOLF THEATRES — There’s nothing groundbreaking about director Kenneth Branagh’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”
In fact, moviegoers will likely feel as if they’ve seen many variations of this story, which focuses on international CIA spies and a villainous businessman moonlighting for the Russian FSB. Indeed, there have been many screen villains bent on destroying the United States through terrorism and/or economic chaos, as does Afghanistan War veteran Viktor Cherevin (Branagh) in “Recruit.” And, inevitably, there’s always a Jack Ryan-type (Chris Pine) hot on said villain’s trail, playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, looking to throw a “monkey in the wrench.”
Still, as Branagh demonstrated with 2011’s “Thor,” he knows how to craft an effective actioner; he knows how to build tension, crafting nerve-wracking suspense from such otherwise mundane tasks as downloading computer files to a flash drive. He knows how to place lead characters in jeopardy – characters, mind you, the audience instinctively knows will triumph – and leave their fates in doubt until the last second.
Despite his move into more mainstream cinema in recent years, Branagh, perhaps, remains best known for his early Shakespearean films. Those highbrow sensibilities shine through here, lending this production a sense of gravitas which might otherwise be lacking in the hands of other filmmakers.
No one will ever mistake “Recruit” for a serious study of human nature, but Branagh provides just enough character depth to emotionally invest his audience in whiz-kid-turned-severely-wounded-Afghanistan-War-vet-turned-international-covert-CIA-operative Jack Ryan and his girlfriend Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley).
At first brush, Pine might not seem well-suited as an action hero, but he does a terrific job, filling shoes once so aptly occupied by Harrison Ford. Pine’s performance doesn’t ring of rehash, mind you; however, whereas Ben Affleck’s Ryan from a decade ago seemed an entirely different person, Pine’s performance is nuanced with just enough echoes of Ford’s work that we could easily take this film as prologue to the ‘90s-era films; there’s no doubt, in other words, these are different age variations of the same character.