Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

This film contains significantly fewer British characters than you might suspect from the poster.
This film contains significantly fewer British characters than you might suspect from the poster.

“Trust No One”

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley and Kenneth Branagh

After the attack on the World Trade Centres on 9/11, economics graduate student Jack Ryan (Pine) joins the Marines, where he shows a flair for intelligence analysis before being crippled in a helicopter crash and recruited out of physio by Thomas Harper (Costner) to become an analyst for the CIA.

Some years later, working on Wall Street as cover and engaged to his former physiotherapist Cathy (Knightley), Jack detects a possible plot to destabilise the US economy by hoarding dollars and then dumping them in the wake of a terrorist attack. Harper sends Jack to Moscow to audit accounts held by Viktor Cherevin (Branagh) and find out when the attack is planned to take place.

After an attempted assassination and Cathy’s unexpected arrival in Moscow, Harper and Jack improvise a plan where Jack acts drunk at dinner and leaves Cathy to distract Cherevin while he goes through his computer. There ensue kidnaps and chases and Jack more-or-less single-handedly prevents a suicide bombing of Wall Street.

What’s wrong with it?

The film is unwisely committed to the one-man awesomeness of Jack Ryan, a man who served for less than eighteen months in the USMC, suffered a crippling spinal injury, spent ten years working a desk job on Wall Street and then took out a professional hit man in hand to hand combat. A professional hit man played by Nonso Anozie, no less, so we’re not talking some skinny punk with a shooter.

Also, shameful under use of Nonso Anozie.

And if he was maintaining that level of full-contact combat training, how come his fiancee, a qualified doctor and professional physiotherapist never noticed?

Ken. Ken, Ken, Ken, I love you, man; but god damnit, what’s with you and the accents? Fair play, his Russian is way better than any of his American accents, but couldn’t they have got a Russian for this? Or an American for Cathy? Or had Cathy be English?

Financial auditing is not the stuff of which thrillers are made, and while I’m not sure what the upper limit on scenes where someone tries to copy files without getting caught is, we are surely past it by now.

While the concept of real economic collapse is terrifying, fictional economic collapse lacks a certain… je ne sais quois.

The film never seems entirely convinced whether Cherevin is a mastermind or a patsy, a dichotomy exemplified when his security chief starts chewing him out for getting distracted, and Cherevin shoots him while the other security guys do nothing. It’s one of a number of scenes that suggest a less action oriented film might have been shaved down in editing.

What’s right with it?

A few accents aside, the acting is good.

It’s a slickly made thriller. Branagh remains a skilled director, although I still prefer his Shakespearean work.

Russian terrorists may be a bit of a throwback, but at least it’s not another jihadist panic plot.

How bad is it really?

The quality of the film is in many ways its greatest flaw. I can’t help feeling that anything this well made ought to be doing and saying something more interesting.

Best bit (if such there is)?

As with many films that are well-made, but not gripping, Shadow Recruit has no really stand out scenes.

What’s up with…?

  • Viktor Cherevin’s complete commitment to a plan which might never have been needed? It’s like… he’s a millionaire oligarch which positions him to do the dollar thing, but he’s also had his own son declared dead so that he can enter the US as a sleeper agent, waiting to be activated by the right Bible reading and blow up Wall Street. How sure were they that they’d have to do this?

Ratings

Production values – Very slick. 4
Dialogue and performances – Some excellent acting, if with some less than stellar accents. The script itself is not bad, but it does lack sparkle. Nothing from the film really pops. 9
Plot and execution – The plot is perfectly perfect as far as it goes, but it never really goes anywhere you don’t expect it to or does anything new, and predictability in a thriller is toxic. 13
Randomness – Cherevin shooting his security guy. Cherevin junior, sleeper agent. The sheer speed of Moscow-to-New York travel. 8
Waste of potential – With a strong franchise pedigree, a good director and a good cast, this should have been better. 14

Overall 48%

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