Tom Clancy’s fictional hero Jack Ryan has long been in search of a cinematic face. He pretty much had one with Alec Baldwin (before he got fat) in “The Search for the Red October,” the first film to feature Ryan. Ben Affleck (before he redeemed his career) took a swipe at playing Ryan. And Harrison Ford (looking for a franchise after Indiana Jones) played Ryan twice.
Now we have a new Jack Ryan in the form of Chris Pine (the young Captain James Tiberius Kirk in the “Star Trek” reboots).
This prefabricated thriller is presented as a prequel, a time before Jack Ryan was Deputy Director of the CIA or President of the United States. In this film directed by Kenneth Branagh, Jack’s back to being a young CIA analyst.
Titled “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” the studio’s publicity department sometimes features the words Shadow Recruit much larger than the Jack Ryan name, almost as if he’s been nearly forgotten. And other times they feature the name Jack Ryan larger, as if trolling for Tom Clancy’s audience.
Maybe this identity crisis stems from last year’s death of Clancy.
More importantly “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is intended to be an all-new reboot of the franchise. Chris Pine pulled that off for the “Star Trek” franchise, didn’t he?
The difference between “Shadow Recruit” and the previous Jack Ryan films is that this one is not based on a Tom Clancy novel, but instead it’s the concoction of Iranian-British screenwriter Hossein Amini. Even so, in typical Hollywood fashion, Amini’s script got completely worked over by Anthony Peckham, Steve Zaillian, Adam Cozad, and David Koepp.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” gives us Jack as an unlikely hero, a brainiac who uncovers information about an imminent terrorist attack on US soil. Having little evidence, the CIA promotes him to field agent and sends him to Moscow to sniff out this plot to cripple the global economy.
Being a spy puts a strain on Jack’s relationship. Thinking he works on Wall Street, his in-the-dark fiancée Clare (portrayed by Keira Knightly) keeps tripping over his lies. Also complicating Jack’s life is his tight-lipped CIA handler William Harper (played by Kevin Costner). Not to mention all the threats on his life by a villainous Russian businessman named Viktor Cherevin (a shivery turn by director/actor Kenneth Branagh).
Like any good spy thriller, it’s a tale of deceptions and disinformation. However, the fate of millions rests on Jack finding the truth.
But who can he trust?
As the trailer says, “Deception is a game. Trust is an illusion. Intelligence is a weapon.”
Yes, this movie is more like “True Lies Lite” than “Hunt for the Red October” or “Patriot Games.”
While arguing with his fiancée about his little white lies, Jack says to Harper: “Could you give us a minute?”
“No,” scowls his handler. “This is geopolitics, not couples therapy.”
Here, this race to find the truth doesn’t have quite the breath-taking urgency as in “No Way Out,” one of Kevin Costner’s best films, when he was the Young Turk in the hero’s role. But he gets a chance to prove himself all over again, having signed a two-picture deal in the new Jack Ryan series. Next up is “Without Remorse,” this one based on a Clancy book.
True Fact: Back in the day, Kevin Costner turned down playing the role of Jack Ryan in “Hunt for the Red October” to make “that silly little Indian movie” (winner of six Oscars, “Dances With Wolves”). As Costner tells it, “I went off and did that, and then never caught back up with the thing. It seemed like different people played Jack Ryan or something like that. I think Jack Ryan passed me by.”
How does Chris Pine feel about following in the footsteps of all those previous Jack Ryans?
“For me it’s always more interesting to kinda start from square one and you take the kinda fundamental pillars of the character and, around that, try to create something new and different,” says Pine. “Just like with Kirk, for instance, I can’t do what came before. I can kinda only do my version of it.”
Yet he admits that there are certain fundamentals to portraying Jack Ryan. “Like I remember in ‘Clear and Present Danger’ that it was Anne Archer who’s driving the Porsche and he’s driving the VW Bug. He’s kinda frumpy and she’s kinda the wunderkind doctor. I like that about Jack, that he’s more comfortable in his study. He’s comfortable with his books. He’s more comfortable putting a puzzle together. He’d rather spend a Sunday at home than go out. He’s a homebody. There’s a comfort in isolation, but there’s a really intense confidence in his own abilities to figure stuff out and to work through things in his own mind. So it’s balancing that kind of Everyman with … that kind of intense confidence in his own abilities.”
As Keira Knightley explains the film, “It’s a good old-fashioned Hollywood thriller, where people run around and things explode.” Yeah, a Tom Clancy kind of story.