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Draven dissects JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT and finds a hero to believe in!

Published at: Jan. 16, 2014, 3:29 a.m. CST

Hey Yo, Draven here.

I don’t usually review films but I was given the chance to see JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT a few days early so I thought I would give you guys my thoughts.

I grew up with my mom reading JACK RYAN novels as each of them came out. We owned THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, PATRIOT GAMES, and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER on VHS, and I have seen each of them several times (with CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER being my favorite of the three). I even enjoyed the Ben Affleck take on Ryan with THE SUM OF ALL FEARS when it came out in 2002 (although I haven't sat down and re-watched it since). So, I have some history with the property and am a fan of all four previous films in the series on varying degrees. 

I was looking forward to Paramount's reboot, mostly because of the cast they put together. Recently though, my interest really started to drop off as there didn't seem to be a lot of buzz on the film after Paramount pushed it back from its original Christmas release (because of having to get THE WOLF OF WALL STREET in theaters for awards reasons). Then press screenings weren’t occurring until just a few days before the film was scheduled to be released, which is never a good sign.

But, I am happy to say that JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT did live up to my expectations, and in fact exceeded them. It isn't a modern classic or anything, but it fits in well with the rest of the series and like other recent successful reboots, it has me excited to see this incarnation of the character continue. Mission successful for Paramount. 

The film starts off with Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan as a student in London attempting to get his doctorate degree. September 11th, 2001 happens and it inspires him to drop out and become a Marine. In 2003, he is involved in a helicopter crash while on a mission (that he heroically volunteered for, of course). He is severely injured during the helicopter crash but manages to save two other Marines despite having a broken back. The film then shows him going through physical therapy (where he meets and falls in love with Keira Knightley) and eventually he learns to walk again. He catches the eye of Kevin Costner, who recruits him to be an analyst for the C.I.A. while working as a compliance officer on Wall Street.

Almost all of that happens before the main title hits, and then we are really off and running. The film jumps ahead ten years and Ryan is still a compliance officer on Wall Street, while keeping an eye on foreign accounts for the C.I.A. He seems to be content with his position though, as it is mostly a numbers and desk job and he doesn’t get a lot of excitement out of it.

Then, we are introduced to Kenneth Branagh’s (who also directed) Russian villain. He, of course, has a complicated plot to bring down America and the global economy. Only Jack Ryan and Kevin Costner stand in his way and can save the day.

Yes, it is a pretty clichéd plot and setup, but what makes this film so refreshing is that there isn't a lot of wasted motions. Once it gets going it doesn’t slow down at all which doesn’t give the audience a chance to stop and think about if the plot makes sense. The pacing is great as the film is a brisk 105 minutes, which really seemed to fly by (especially in this era of 150+ minute blockbusters).

Beyond the pacing, the cast was really good as well and elevated the seemingly mediocre script. Chris Pine has natural charisma and likeability which makes it easy for him to have great chemistry with his castmates (including Keira Knightley, despite their relationship being really under-developed). He really has come a long way from playing second-fiddle in high-concept Lindsay Lohan romantic comedies and hopefully his star continues to rise. 

Kevin Costner was exactly what I wanted from him, and seemed to really have fun playing the role of Ryan’s mentor and confidant. Again, he had terrific chemistry with Pine and this made it a team that was easy to root for (more action films need to learn how to do this). On the flip-side of that, Branagh was as dastardly and menacing as we all expected him to be and even had a pretty decent Russian accent. (There is a great scene where he first meets Ryan, that really sold him as not only an asshole but also a very intelligent threat.)

Beyond just his role as the film’s antagonist though, Branagh really knocked it out of the park with his direction. I was in the camp of being pretty annoyed with the way he shot THOR, but I can confirm that he thankfully left behind his obsession with Dutch angles. With THOR, I thought that Branagh's direction didn't fit the material or tone of the film but with JACK RYAN he nailed it perfectly. He shot the film with confidence in the action sequences and with a crisp urgency that seemed to match the rest of the film at all times.

To sum it all up, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is a perfect example of what I call a “cable film”. It’s a really entertaining, fun film that will make for an easy re-watch. The kind of film that will be on TNT in a few years, and as I am skipping through channels and no matter where the film is at, I will stop the channel surfing and keep it on. It’s a solid, entertaining film in a time of the year where that is rare. I just hope enough of us go and see it so we can get everyone back for a follow up.

(Just for reference, my rankings of the JACK RYAN series goes like this: 1. CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER 2. THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER 3. PATRIOT GAMES 4. SHADOW RECRUIT and in a distant 5. THE SUM OF ALL FEARS)

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