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.
Of course, “Recruit’s” writers and Branagh himself must also be credited with so successfully capturing the essence of the earlier movies. Screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp craft an impressive, wholly original origin story from the spy novels of the late Tom Clancy; I was surprised, in fact, to learn “Recruit” wasn’t based on a pre-existing Clancy novel.
Knightley also deserves credit, playing a woman drawn into a world she’s neither emotionally nor legally prepared to deal with. She compliments Pine perfectly, with the script and the chemistry between the two providing just enough emotional heft to carry the film.
Veteran actor Kevin Costner is also a welcome presence, playing shadowy Navy veteran-turned-longtime-covert-CIA-operative Thomas Harper, who introduces Ryan into the spy world and ultimately becomes his handler. Harper is decidedly underdeveloped, but we don’t need a great deal of detail to know him; we’ve met his type many times and that’s not a bad thing in this instance.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” won’t leave you with much to contemplate afterward, but it does provide nearly two hours of solid, fast-paced, involving entertainment.
Runtime: 105 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence
Rating System Explained: Rabies = 0; Yip = *; Bark = **; Howl = ***; Lone-wolf howl = ****; Leader of the pack = *****
Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011; email@example.com