It’s rare to find a fun and entertaining film on the front end of the movie year. January is notorious for being the month where studios empty their cupboards of held-over films with low expectations. That’s why “Jack Ryan: Shadow Agent” is a breath of fresh air. It may not have the best title, but it is an able action thriller. It’s a good ‘kick back and have a good time’ movie that is a nice change of pace from the heavier, deeper films we get during awards season.
This is the fifth movie from the Jack Ryan film series but the first since 2002’s “The Sum of All Fears”. It’s a reboot that also serves as an origin story for Jack. Chris Pine takes the lead once played by Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Alec Baldwin. We first see him on the campus of the London School of Economics. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 inspire him to leave college and join the Marines. A series of uncontrollable events soon has him working as a financial intelligence analyst for the CIA. Kevin Costner plays his boss Thomas Harper who in many respects serves as Jack’s mentor.
All of that leads to Jack’s first foray into the world of geopolitics. He uncovers a potential plot by a powerful Russian businessman named Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh). He travels to Moscow and soon finds himself more than just an analyst. The mission soon goes bad and Jack becomes a full-fledged field operative. Harper pops back up and Jack’s fiancé Cathy (Keira Knightley) soon finds herself in the middle of the chaos. It all plays out in a hail of bullets, car crashes, and big booms.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” follows a pretty familiar blueprint. It doesn’t strive to be original and it certainly doesn’t break any new ground. But it does know exactly what it wants to be and that focus helps make this a really fun ride. Kenneth Branagh also directed the film and he did a fine job of delivering a variety of great scenes. Perhaps my favorite is the first meeting between an undercover Jack and a suspicious Cheverin. It takes place in Cheverin’s ultra-modern Moscow office and you can cut the tension with a knife.
We also get quite a bit of action in this picture but I found it to be the right dosage. The shootouts and car chases are often set to beautiful Moscow and New York City backdrops and they are competently shot with a lot of energy. The fight scenes were filmed ala Paul Greengrass style with loads of quick cuts and herky-jerky hand-held cameras. As is often the case with this frantic style, it made it a little difficult to follow what was going on. Personally that drives me nuts. It’s obviously a popular stylistic choice these days but it doesn’t always work for me.
Chris Pine seems to be getting better and better with each new role. I completely bought into him here because he brings so much more than the normal macho bravado. His Jack Ryan feels like a real person. He is nervous, uncomfortable, and the things happening around him deeply effect him. I appreciated that. But it’s Costner who really steals the show. Now I’ve always been a big Costner fan so I was excited to see his name attached. But he handles this material like the old pro that he is. It’s a great performance despite the few bits of cheesy dialogue. Keira Knightley is another story. She certainly has the American accent down but that’s about it. She has some good moments but there were several times when I had no idea what she was doing. She employs an assortment of weird facial expressions and quasi smiles that were often times distracting. Kate Beckinsale turned down this part when it was offered but I wish she had accepted it. I can see her bringing a lot more to it than Knightley.
Is this a formula that we’ve seen before? Absolutely. But when I’m enjoying myself, I just don’t care. Branagh keeps things rolling at a crisp pace and the time flew by. Some have had problems with the film’s lack of desire to do anything new. I can see that to a point. But when you handle your material well and the results are good, I’m okay with it. This is a straightforward and unapologetic thriller that never tries to be something it isn’t. Most importantly this is good old-fashioned fun and that counts for a lot in my book.
The Thing I liked best about it was Brannah himself as the bad guy. Quiet, controlled, and not given to evil genius monologuing. The action stuff and the quick revelation of the terror plot was too standard for the smart guy character Jack Ryan is supposed to be. Solid start of the year stuff but it could have been great instead of just good.
I thought it was a lot of fun. As to the quick revelation, I think that’s one way you can tell it isn’t based on a Tom Clancy novel. Still it was a surprisingly good time.
Great review. Thinking about catching this tonight, so glad you were a fan. We don’t have the same issues with January films. We get all of the big Oscar contenders released in January so it is actually a really good time.
Oh I didn’t think about that. That’s right, January is a pretty good time for you guys.
You definitely should give this movie a look. Like I mentioned, it’s nothing new or revelatory. It’s just good old-fashioned fun and sometimes I like that.
Another pretty positive review! I’d written this off as a generic by the numbers action flick, largely thanks to the underwhelming trailer, but glad you enjoyed it mate. Not sure I’ll get round to it but I may give it a rental when it’s out.
It is pretty by the numbers. Nothing all that original. That’s what most people have had a problem with. But it’s not trying to be anything new or groundbreaking. It is what it is and it does its thing well.
Good review, this movie has been on my radar for a while then it got bumped to January. I’m still playing catch up with Dec. movies.
Thanks for reading. I had a lot of fun with it. Just don’t let your expectations get too high, kick your feet up, and have a good time with it. If you look at it like that you’ll enjoy it.
I’m looking forward to this on DVD, it’s great to see Costner in more movies lately
Love seeing Costner back on screen. If I’m not mistaken, he’ll be in three movies this year.
Another positive review. I need to make a point of seeing this one, I guess.
Yes. Just keep your expectations in check. Don’t expect anything too deep or too groundbreaking. The film has a light and easy goal which I quite liked.
Good review Keith. It’s a fun movie that definitely deserves to be seen, all in case there is a chance this could be a new, improved franchise coming our way.
Exactly. Fun is the operative word. That’s why this movie works. Sometimes I just want a good, well made, fun movie.
Nice one Keith!! Glad you enjoyed it too. I gave it a bit less, but hey 3.5/5 is still pretty darn good. “His Jack Ryan feels like a real person.” Exactly! And that’s what I like about Pine’s portrayal but I LOVE Costner, wish he had more screen time. It would’ve been nice to see him as Jack Ryan 30 yrs ago wouldn’t it?
Thanks Ruth! Costner actually turned the Jack Ryan character down years ago. Boy he wails be great! I had a lot of fun with us. It’s good to get a movie that you can really enjoy in January. It’s certainly not perfect but it was better than I expected.
I just don’t think I could force myself to sit through this.
Ahhh, not into the action, spy thriller flicks?
So not. It’s the one genre that does nothing for me.
I see. Well this one definitely wouldn’t impress you. It follows that pretty standard recipe.
Nice review. It’s surprised me how Branagh has started making action movies in recent years. I have enjoyed some of the past Jack Ryan pictures so I’ll have to check this out.
Yes give it a look. Again, it’s nothing dynamic or new. But is a fun change of pace that I enjoyed.
I do love a good Jack Ryan movie. I was unsure about this but you’ve put my mind at ease Keith. Looking forward to a trip to the cinema now.
Awesome! Again I say the key is to moderate your expectations. This is nothing groundbreaking. On the other hand, it is classic styled, old-fashioned fun that is really well made. I had a good time with it!
Wow, that’s a high score for a throwaway film like this – guess it must bear watching! I’ll go check it out!
Again, I consider fun even with script, cinematography, acting, etc. I had a lot of fun with this one. It certainly isn’t new or innovative. But it is entertaining and well made. I had to give it credit for that.
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