Quick pop quiz: name the four actors who have played Tom Clancy’s CIA character Jack Ryan on film….? OK – I’ll give you a clue… Chris Pine plays the latest incarnation in Kenneth Branagh’s new film: “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”. This is not a film that is going to challenge for the Oscars methinks, and it doesn’t have the angst or artistry of an art house movie. But – in the same vein as last year’s ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ – it is a damn good popcorn movie.
Following 9/11, we see Ryan persuaded into serving his country before, via a military adventure in Afghanistan, he is recruited into an elite team of – (erm) – accountants by shadowy CIA character Thomas Harper, played by Kevin Costner. Harper’s team is tasked with stopping the financing of terrorists from attacking US targets (apparently the rest of the world is fair game). Suspicion falls on Russian oligarch Viktor Cherevin played with menacing glee by Branagh himself. Jack Ryan is sent to Moscow to audit him. I’d like to pretend that that’s a euphemism for a ‘hit’, but no – he really is sent there to audit his company records. Not sounding promising is it?
Ryan himself is also the subject of suspicion, but this time from his beautiful but rather clingy doctor girlfriend Cathy Muller (Kiera Knightley), who is completely unaware that he works for the CIA and thinks he’s having an affair (probably with Alice Eve because she’s seen Star Trek: Into Darkness). She is clearly cast as the damsel in distress, so you can bet your bottom ruble that she may end up in distress before the end of the film: the plot of this film is sufficiently linear enough to not disappoint.
Chris Pine – about as omnipresent on screens at the moment as Cumberbatch – is a ruggedly macho boy scout, at his acting best when he is out of his depth: a scene where he is talked back into role via a mobile phone call with a monotone CIA call centre prole is particularly good. Keira Knightley, shapely as ever, plays her American accent really well. My wife commented that only her dental work (or lack thereof) provides the giveaway to her British origins (“saucer of milk, table 12”)!
But it is the old boys of the film who have the most fun. I mentioned in my review of ‘Man of Steel’ last year how good it was to see Costner back on the screen again, and here is again – this time very much in ‘Bodyguard’ mode. Very good he is too: steely but with a twinkle.
And Kenneth Branagh revels in his role as the evil Russian businessman, bent on the destruction of the US but with some of the most ineffectual security known to man. But he does find a use for those old energy saving lightbulbs the electricity companies insist on sending you: worth seeing the film just for that.
Branagh directs with good pacing and some nice ‘Bourne style’ editing, especially during an exciting car chase through the streets of Moscow. This is how “A Good Day to Die Hard” should have been. Patrick Doyle supplies the thumping soundtrack which supports the action well.
The story, that seemingly pits the Russians against the Americans is – from the timeline – clearly set in the present day, but seems out of its time: it might have worked better if the whole thing had been set Argo-style in the 70’s (but then we wouldn’t have had the internet!). Despite the rather random reference to ‘the Chinese’ at one point, this is a bit inexplicable. But then, this is not a film to think too hard about. The plot is enjoyably ludicrous, with so much depending on pure lack and the wild mental leaps of Ryan’s analyst (which of course are always 100% right). Whilst the film could have been sub-titled “Adventures in Accounting” and it shouldn’t work, it really does most of the time: perhaps the film is targeted at grey pen-pushers who really think they would drive cars like that if they didn’t also want to keep a clean licence? (Oh! Perhaps I’m one of them!) It is a couple of hours of fairly mindless escapism and if you don’t see it at the cinema you should watch out for it on your next Transatlantic flight.
And by the way, the answers to the pop quiz are Chris Pine in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”; Harrison Ford in “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger”; Ben Affleck in “The Sum of All Fears” and Alec Baldwin in “The Hunt For Red October”.
Fad Rating: FFFf.