Russian roulette: Chris Pine plays Tom Clancy’s hero in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

by Mark Burger

Chris Pine joins the ranks of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck in playing Jack Ryan, the CIA analyst and true-blue man of action popularized first in Tom Clancy’s best-selling novels and the subsequent film adaptations.

The self-explanatory Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit reboots Ryan’s roots, making him a post-9/11 Marine who saw action in Afghanistan before being tapped to join the CIA by veteran agent and the story’s resident espionage mentor, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner).

Jack’s first major assignment takes him away from concerned girlfriend Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) and smack into danger in Moscow, where no sooner does he check into his hotel than he survives an assassination attempt. Such occurrences are evidently common in post-Soviet Russia, at least according to Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed), the film’s principal heavy.

Branagh the director tends to give himself the best entrances and exits and, as befits villainy in a film such as this, he gets all the best lines (and most of the laughs) in Adam Cozad and David Koepp’s script. Indeed, his is the film’s most interesting character. Like Ryan, Cherevin is a veteran of war in Afghanistan (an earlier one, of course) and his nefarious agenda, as befits Clancy’s writing, is not outside the realm of possibility, or at least credibility.

Not unlike his portrayal of James T. Kirk in the recent Star Trek films, Pine is handsome and athletic and also fairly bland. Knightley sports a solid American accent, but this isn’t her best role. Ryan and Cathy are advised by Harper that “this is geopolitics, not couple’s therapy,” yet that aspect of the story is by far the flattest and takes up too much time. Costner seems to relish playing the appropriately mysterious and ever-present Harper, with Colm Feore, David Hayman, David Paymer and an unbilled Mikhail Baryshnikov also turning up.

For audiences in a mood for international intrigue, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is competent, well paced and well made, but it doesn’t offer many surprises. Good guys win, bad guys lose, franchise to follow. Maybe. !

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