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'Jack Ryan' Falls In The Shadows Of Its Action Film Predecessors

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, January 26, 2014

Updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014 22:01

Jack Ryan

Courtesy Of Skydance Productions

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the newest adventure of the Tom Clancy character, is a grab bag of an action film: it contains many popular elements of the genre, even some appreciable ones, but it lacks originality and tries too much. The film keeps the viewer in a state of perpetual deja vu—remembering what was probably a better film—since near every scene resembles something out of the Bourne, Die Hard, or even Dark Knight series.  
The plot is a combination of elements from any Cold War and technology terrorism film: Russian Viktor Cherevin, played by the estimable Kenneth Branagh—who also happens, rather unexpectedly, to be the director of the film—is vengeful toward the United States for past wrongs and plans its downfall with a twofold bombing and economic attack on Wall Street.  
Standing in the way of America’s imminent destruction, albeit a dubious destruction from the start, is Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), London School of Economics wiz, C.I.A. analyst, and international defender. While Pine possesses a great amount of talent, his writers have done him a disservice in this film and render his character unexplainably inconsistent, using his naivety as an academic one minute (“I’m just an economist!”) and his battle-ready grit and know-how another. Characters can and should be complicated, but this movie can’t seem to put its thumb on Ryan.

Inevitably, Ryan’s fiance Cathy, played by Keira Knightley, gets caught up in his fight against the Russians. Her capture and swift return are perhaps the most unnecessary part of the plot and seem to serve no purpose other than to test the couple’s already forced, uncomfortable, and odd relationship. Maybe it is just Knightley, whose cheekbones fend off admirers with the threat of puncture wounds, but I felt no chemistry between these two actors. In fact, I felt more between Branagh and Knightley during a dinner scene wherein they discuss Russian poetry and American stereotypes (as well as, for no reason whatsoever, a mention of Cheverin’s debilitating scoliosis).  
There are car chases, bad guys walking in bird formation down the sidewalk with sunglasses on, and instantly granted requests for impossible information (“I want the plans for the three bottom floors of this building in my hands yesterday!”), but I found Kevin Costner’s role as the wise mentor Thomas Harper to be the most annoyingly trite element. I know that my dad might laugh at lines such as “This is geopolitics, not couples therapy,” but the jokes of this old hand, who seemed more bored with the film than I was, resulted in silence in the theater I attended. One particularly exasperated man walked out as that line was spoken, and four more people would follow before the credits.

I wish I could tell you more about the plot other than Russian baddy vs. American blue-eyes, but I am sure that no one, not even an economist from the London School of Economics, can fully grasp the elements of Cheverin’s plot against America. The writers themselves seem to have filled in their own abundant confusions about an economic crisis that would destroy America with whisperings of algorithms, world markets, and assets, cool computer graphics during encryption processes, and Ryan’s summations of the dubious threats of this half-formed plot with doom and gloom statements, like “if this goes through, the United States will be in a second Great Depression.”  Sure, Ryan, sure.  
Overall, this movie contains all the elements that have made other action films great. It has some humor, a beautiful woman (no matter how much she terrifies me, Keira still makes any movie more attractive), a handsome hero who has brains and brawn, a weathered sage, explosions, espionage, and evil Russian men who like to make references to Napoleon and Romantic poets. Unfortunately, it does a poor job of fitting these elements together. The writing is cheap, the plot vague, and the premise flawed. Branagh should be glad that he has good actors in this film (including himself)—otherwise, it might be totally irredeemable. The first half might still be.

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