Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Pine, Viktor Cherevin, Keira Knightley
Watch Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
There’s a lot to be said for an old-fashioned leading man. And if Star Trek has proven anything, it’s that Chris Pine is one of them. With the confidence of William Shatner and the sex appeal of George Clooney, his eyebrows alone are a reason to watch a film. Recruiting him for the Jack Ryan reboot, therefore, is one of the smartest things Paramount could have done.
Luckily, it’s not the only smart thing – starting with the choice of franchise. Jack Ryan is hardly a relevant figure in the post-9/11 and Wikileaks age, a good guy CIA analyst who does the job for America’s own safety. But that dated quality is exactly what works in the film’s favour and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is unafraid to embrace it. Even Kevin Costner has a major part, a fact that adds to the semi-retro sheen.
“You’re not the good guys,” Ryan (Pine) tells Costner’s shady recruiter. “Rendition, waterboarding…” Kevin looks back at him, straight-faced. “That’s not my unit.” Dismissing modern concerns out of hand is a brash, but surprisingly effective move, one that David Koepp and Adam Cozad’s script gets away with, mostly thanks to – yes – Chris Pine.
An economist who signed up the to US marines out of a sense of duty, he finds himself in the middle of the field and out of his depth when he investigates the dealings of Russian investor Viktor Cherevin; a premise that manages to be both topical and traditional. Rushing around Moscow and Wall Street with a permanently bewildered expression on his face, Pine’s charisma immediately reminds you why it’s fun to cheer on the boys in blue.
He’s supported by strong chemistry with his second lead – not Keira Knightley, who plays his physiotherapist and love interest, but Kenneth Branagh. He gives great menace as Viktor, right down to his convincing Russian accent. When the two men face off against each other, bullets don’t fly, but words do; menacing glares and raised eyebrows are the order of the day. And when those glares come from Kenneth Branagh and the eyebrows belong to Chris Pine, tension arrives as a swift side portion.
It says everything you need to know about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit that the central set piece is the three of them going to dinner. The sympathetic Knightley, who brings real credibility to Jack’s personal life, flirts with Viktor, while Ryan tries to sneak into his office. It’s the kind of scenario you expect to find in a Mission: Impossible TV episode rather than a 2014 blockbuster – and it makes for a refreshing change to the explosion-filled, CGI-heavy norm. Behind the camera, Branagh peppers the sequences with fast-paced tracking shots that ramp up the suspense, but the Thor helmet mostly keeps things suitably old-school, letting the cast do the work. Even the villain’s final moments are understated and free of Hollywood cheese.
The result is a reboot of a dated franchise that isn’t afraid to stay that way. Clocking in at under two hours, you could easily dismiss Shadow Recruit as bland and forgettable, but under the surface lies a sharp, smart thriller. Pine brings an engaging modern face to Tom Clancy’s hero, comfortably channeling the confidence of Alec Baldwin and charm of Harrison Ford. Rendition and water-boarding may not be Jack’s unit, but the thought of him tackling those issues in future outings is genuinely intriguing. There’s a lot to be said for an old-fashioned leading man. Bizarrely, that includes the words “new”, “exciting” and “make a sequel please”.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
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