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Film Review: Tom Clancy hero Jack Ryan returns to big screen

New film 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' requires major suspension of disbelief.

January 17, 2014|By Andy Klein
  • Left to right: Chris Pine is Jack Ryan and Keira Knightley is Cathy Muller in "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.
Left to right: Chris Pine is Jack Ryan and Keira Knightley… (Courtesy of Paramount…)

After more than a decade-long hiatus, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan is back on the big screen. In “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” — one of the most pointlessly clunky titles in recent memory — he is reborn in the form of Chris Pine, who steps into the differing-size shoes of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford (twice) and Ben Affleck.

This is, of course, the second rebooted hero Pine has played, the other being Captain Kirk in the 2009 “Star Trek” and its 2013 sequel — both megahits. Those films managed to make Kirk largely new, unlike the surrounding characters, who felt closer to the TV show. It's harder to assess how much Pine brings to Ryan, because, well, the Ryan films have never defined their hero in a memorable way; and the procession of different actors hasn't helped.

In “The Hunt for Red October,” Ryan started out as a CIA analyst, who finds himself thrust into a dangerous field assignment. The same setup is used for the new Ryan. After a pre-credit sequence establishing his action bona fides in the days after 9/11, we leap ahead ten years, to find him living with longtime girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley) and working as a covert analyst attached to a Wall Street investment firm.

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When he spots some suspicious financial activity on the part of giant Russian corporation the Cherevin Group, he heads for Moscow to investigate. He is in town only long enough to be driven from airport to hotel before being attacked by a killer sent by either Cherevin or the authorities.

It's at that moment that credibility becomes a problem. We all learn to suspend disbelief on behalf of our action heroes, but there are limits. And this fight scene, while otherwise terrifically staged, exceeds them. The killer (Nonso Anozie) is gigantic, outweighing Ryan by at least 2-to-1; the idea that a desk jockey like Ryan can get the advantage over this supersized professional for even a moment is ludicrous. Pine is right on the mark in his anxiety and horror after the fight, suggesting that Ryan also knows that his victory is unbelievable.

Soon Ryan is engaged in a battle of wits with boss Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed). As an added complication straight out of the farce writer's playbook, a jealously suspicious Cathy shows up unexpectedly and is used as a diversion by Ryan and his former mentor (Kevin Costner) to distract notorious horndog Cherevin.

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