Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Espionage ain’t what it used to be

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Russians still make the best movie villains. Since 9/11, Hollywood has been queasy about giving us fictional baddies from Arab countries—the line between cheap stereotypes and real-life religious extremism is too blurry, too delicate. South American drug lords have had their day, and Albanians in bad sweaters just don’t cut it. But ah! the Russian villains, with their tragic, poetic souls and political ruthlessness. No wonder Kenneth Branagh, the director of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, also cast himself as one. It’s the next best thing to ruling the world.

In his heart of hearts, Branagh might like to do that too, but he’s had to settle for directing blockbusters, and they at least suit his seemingly larger-than-life ambitions. Though nothing can match the majestic sweep of his 1996 Hamlet, Branagh’s 2011 Thor managed to hurl a few inspired thunderbolts—he approached Marvel’s phony Norse mythology as if he were interpreting Wagner. With Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the latest entry in the somewhat patchy canon of Tom Clancy adaptations, Branagh enters more realistic territory—provided your idea of realism is elastic enough to embrace the adventures of a dutiful young CIA agent who races the clock to stop a megalomaniacal Russian financier from blowing up Wall Street. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is half silliness, half swagger, but Branagh’s arms-akimbo impudence as a director makes it work. He takes it all seriously, but with a wink.

Chris Pine plays Jack Ryan, or rather a new kind of Jack Ryan: He’s a promising young student at the London School of Economics until 9/11 changes everything. He joins the Marines and barely survives a chopper crash in Afghanistan, coming close to losing the use of his legs. Luckily, a young doctor-in-training at his rehab orders him to “Walk, damn it!” or words to that effect. And because that almost-doctor, Cathy, is played by Keira Knightley—a woman with the eyes of a seductress and the jawline of an adorable baby shark—he dares not disobey.

Meanwhile, CIA elder William Harper (Kevin Costner, now in full-on silver-fox mode and looking good) notices that young Jack has pluck. Would he like to work for the organization as a plant at a Wall Street firm, keeping an eye out for hinky funds transfers that could signal terrorist activity? “Covertly?” Ryan asks, his eyes widening. He accepts, and though his job mostly involves looking at a computer screen day in and day out—barring the occasional secret meeting at, of all places, New York’s Film Forum—he eventually heads to Moscow for his first field assignment. There, he crashes a thug’s head into a hotel bathroom bidet and later, rather shakily, drowns the guy in a few inches of bathtub water. It takes some elbow grease to be a shadow recruit.

Branagh orchestrates all this action with Zeus-like aplomb. That early bathroom brawl is a real bone-rattler: Bodies fly, taking chunks out of any porcelain or plaster they happen to hit, and even though Jack survives the ordeal, he’s visibly shaken by his first kill. Pine initially seems a little too indistinct, perhaps too irredeemably sweet, to play such an America-first go-getter (portrayed in previous movies by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck). But as his Ryan surveys his horrible handiwork, his face looks so ruddy and youthful—the weight of what he’s done hits us just when it hits him. Even amid all this potboiler espionage madness, Pine is steadfastly human, a Jack Ryan whose patriotism isn’t likely to override his conscience.

In fact, before Ryan even takes the CIA job, he asks Harper outright about waterboarding—the clear subtext being he wants no part of it. The world has changed since Clancy wrote his first Jack Ryan novel, The Hunt for Red October, in 1984, and neither Branagh nor screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp have any interest in living in the past. Except, maybe, when it comes to resuscitating Russia as a source of colorful villains. Branagh’s character, Viktor Cherevin, is a cirrhosis-afflicted satyr who prefers his women beautiful and married—stealing them away is half the fun. And so, when he gets a gander at Cathy—she and Jack are a couple, though as yet unmarried, and she’s clueless about the true nature of his job—he practically devours her with his gnomish male gaze.

It’s a little strange to see an actress of Knightley’s fierceness cast as the imperiled babe (Cathy has followed Jack to Russia as a “surprise,” the sort of thing unsuspecting significant others are always doing in espionage fiction), but Knightley holds her own. When Viktor cozies up to her in a tony Moscow restaurant, she purrs back at him like a kitten, but you can almost see the tiger’s blood throbbing in her temples.

Still, Viktor isn’t easily swatted away. His accent is thick, like borscht; his eyes are cold, like vodka. He’s a collection of walking clichés, writ large enough to show up on the big screen. Branagh, as both an actor and director, is old-fashioned that way. Even though plenty of people will end up watching Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit on their iPads, or on a tiny square installed in the back of an airline seat, Branagh is steadfast in his love of grandeur. It’s as if his goal is to be visible from the moon. And who knows? Maybe he is.

Ticket Cascadia
More Film...
Southside With You
Barack gets the girl

A 20-something woman living at home prepares for a day out. Her parents tease her as she fixes her hair. Is it a date? No, just a work associate, a Harvard law student with the firm for the summer, taking her to a community meeting to discuss “broken faucets and underfunded schools.”…

more »
Hell or High Water
Making them like they used to

Oh, they do not make heartland crime dramas like they did back in the ’70s—smart, ornery, low of budget and high of attitude. Steeped in seedy characters and lousy luck. Above all lacking in the least amount of body fat, moral or cinematic.

Two-Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point, Badlands.

more »
Florence Foster Jenkins
The flat lady sings

Perhaps she was a tragic figure, or a clinical case worthy of Oliver Sacks, or the incarnation of a dishonest middlebrow culture. But in the end, Stephen Frears’s enjoyable, sentimental movie turns this bizarre real-life figure into a version of Eddie the Eagle, swooping and crashing…

more »
Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Wednesday Market

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Brewers Cruise

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Music at Maritime

6:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

The Gun Show

8:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Northwood Steak and Crab 5 Point Film Festival
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bow Little Market

1:00pm|Belfast Feed Store

Garden Dedication

3:00pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Blues, Brews & BBQ

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Vintner Dinner

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

6:00pm|Riverwalk Park

Move to Amend

6:00pm|Mount Vernon

Fiction Writing Group

6:00pm|Village Books,

Elizabeth Park Concert Series

6:00pm|Elizabeth Park

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Northwood Steak and Crab 5 Point Film Festival
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

What's Next?

9:00am|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Wild Things

9:30am|Lake Padden

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Barbecues and Beach Parties

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

Summer Concert Series Finale

6:00pm|Seafarers Park

Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Final Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

Final Dancing on the Green

7:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Wine and Music

7:00pm|Artifacts Cafe and Wine Bar

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center


9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Swinomish 2016 Andrew Subin Artifacts Wine Bar Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Northwood Steak and Crab Bellingham Farmer’s Market 5 Point Film Festival Village Books