By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Good, bad or indifferent, film reboots/reimaginings inadvertently entertain. With each new production, the audience can’t help but play a game of compare and contrast. Television series notwithstanding, which actor’s interpretation of an iconic action hero is best? As Bond, is it Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan or Craig? As Superman, is it Reeves (George), Reeve (Christopher), Routh or Cavill? And now, with the release of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, does Chris Pine’s CIA analyst-turned-reluctant-operative surpass Baldwin, Ford and Affleck?
In a word: yes. Alec Baldwin (1990′s The Hunt for Red October) seemed uneasy in his first movie lead, seesawing between hammy and numb. Harrison Ford (1992′s Patriot Games, 1994′s Clear and Present Danger) came off as stoic bordering on morose, his occasional smile resembling a grimace. As for Ben Affleck (2002′s The Sum of All Fears), this fourth Tom Clancy film adaptation was the least heralded, with Affleck’s performance summed up with such adjectives as “callow” and “mediocre.”
Enter Chris Pine’s brainiac Ryan, managing to juggle boyish enthusiasm with humor and decency, as well as palpable fear. It’s a spirited, thoughtful performance … such as when he’s forced to kill an enemy in self-defense (his first homicide), he plays the scene with unswerving determination tempered with great sorrow. We see the questions play on his face: Will he be forgiven? Will he be damned? What would have usually been a stereotypical moment between good guy versus bad takes on a much deeper dimension.
Back to Jack: this story is “based on characters created by Tom Clancy,” rather than an adaptation of any of the nine remaining Jack Ryan books. (Begging the question: weren’t any of Clancy’s other nine tomes worthy of a movie treatment?) Credited to debuting screenwriter Adam Cozad and veteran David Koepp (Premium Rush, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible, Jurassic Park), the script initially recounts a quasi-accurate back story about Tom Clancy’s protagonist. We first meet Ryan the student, lolling on a bench at the London School of Economics, taking a break from his studies. Utilizing the attack on 911 in order to effect a reversal in his plans, Ryan leaves the PhD program, choosing to enlist with the Marines. And, as expected, years later Ryan finds himself recruited to work as a covert CIA analyst on Wall Street.
Cutting over to Moscow, we meet Kenneth Branagh’s fearsome Viktor Cherevin, who’s leading the charge to avenge Mother Russia. Aided by Kremlin compatriots, Cherevin has constructed an elaborate terrorism plot mixed with a global economic breakdown, all with the goal of pulverizing the U.S. into mere rubel, um, rubble. Thank heavens for Ryan, who scans a ledger like nobody’s business and, in the blink of a nanosecond, can deduce every last scintilla of a Slavic subterfuge.
While most of the plot unravels smoothly (with many seemingly inexplicable details eventually explained), there is a silliness that runs throughout. Echoed in earlier Clancy films such as Patriot Games, CIA pros simply can’t hold a neuron to Ryan’s über-medulla oblongata. No matter how untested Ryan may be, his seasoned colleagues sit in dumbstruck wonder as he calls the shots. Seriously? No one else in the CIA can figure out how to track a possible terrorist (i.e., family members, social security numbers, frigging facebook?). Anyone?
Additionally, it seems that the CIA is working on one hell of a shoestring budget. In an attempt to halt worldwide pandemonium, the agency sends a team over to Moscow. Yet all the CIA can afford is Ryan, as well as his AARP-esque boss (Kevin Costner) to handle the sharpshooting duties, and an additional fellow who wields a weapon every now and then. Heck, this ragtag group even has to enlist Ryan’s non-spy fiancé (Keira Knightley’s Cathy) to step in on an ad hoc basis. Oh, wait, let’s not forget that nice young lady with the headset sitting in a truck.
Inanities aside, as directed by Kenneth Branagh, the movie spins the suspense from the opening sequence until the very end. Unlike Branagh’s prior directorial effort (the often muddy Thor), here his eye is impeccable and his pacing superb, delivering one super wallop of a ride. While today’s definition of a breathless actioner has become synonymous with the handheld, shaky cam technique, it’s refreshing to note that in this film, per the production notes, cinematographer Haris Zambarloukas worked in 35mm anamorphic, “echoing the graphic, photojournalistic look of ’70s thrillers.”
Other than the strong Mr. Pine, the small supporting cast is fine. As Ryan’s superior, Costner delivers sly humor and a welcome gravitas. Knightley, stuck in the role of the clueless fiancé in the first act, is thankfully allowed to move beyond the tedium. She ultimately gives an early shape to the backbone that we recognize from Anne Archer’s Mrs. Ryan in the two Harrison Ford films. As for Branagh’s second job, that of acting as the Russian antagonist Cherevin, his portrayal is surprisingly overcooked in both accent and manner (think Dr. Evil by way of Boris Badenov). Given Branagh’s history of brilliant performances, it’s odd to think that in this case, he might have considered staying firmly seated in the director’s chair.
In the J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek franchise, Pine successfully captured Captain James T. Kirk. And now, with this latest turn, he may find himself up to his neck in all sorts of re-booties. Let’s just hope he keeps away from Howard the Duck.
Rating on a scale of 5 choruses of ‘Putin on the Ritz’: 3.5
Release date: January 17, 2014
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Adam Cozad and David Koepp
Based on characters created by: Tom Clancy
Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley
Running Time: 105 minutes
Here’s the trailer: