Movie Review – ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ (2014)

Posted on by Dave

Directed: Kenneth Branagh
Written: Adam Cozad

Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightly, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh

Scott Ward

A university student sleeps on a London park bench, textbook on top of his napping face. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) wakes up from his study…uh hem… break, to a commotion at the Student Activities Center, he follows the crowd of people; some curious, others in a state of utter disbelief.  As he walks into the room where the news channels are playing, several students stare at him and one asks him “aren’t you an American”. Jack nods yes. The Student pats him on the shoulder and sincerely says “I’m really sorry”. The date: September 11th, 2001.


Without seeing a played out and tragically familiar series of news footage, we are introduced to Jack Ryan’s updated motivation. Cut to 2003 Afghanistan, the now Lt. Ryan of the United States Marines is injured during combat in a helicopter crash. While under going physical therapy he meets the love of his life Cathy Muller (Keira Knightly), Navy Commander Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) and his new calling. He motivated and recruited by Cmdr Harper to use his skills where they can do some good, by finishing his PhD and working undercover for the CIA in America’s Financial Center on Wall Street. Cut to 2012 and a confident Dr. Ryan, who uncovers financial data that point to a new threat to The United States.  The problem is, only he is the person who can stop it. It’s hard to explain the basic plot of these Spy Movies without giving spoilers, so I will let the film speak for itself.


Jack Ryan is our favorite “I’m just an analyst” CIA operative. He has been played by nearly as many actors as Batman, including a future Caped Crusader (Ben Affleck), and all have been memorable to date. This film is no exception. I want to give a disclaimer, I have never read any of the Tom Clancy’s novels, but I have enjoyed every one of the films adapted from his novels.  That being said, I want you know why this is a great watch.


Chris Pine almost always plays the sarcastic, smart ass, anti-hero part. But like his portrayal of Capt. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, he pulls this one-off really well. Jack Ryan is always a “fish out of water” character, but isn’t written with the disdain for authority as Pine’s usual roles.  This is a very fresh and modern Jack Ryan, yet still the same smart, doesn’t buckle under pressure and do whatever it takes Jack Ryan we all know and love. I had my reservations about casting Chris Pine, but his performance and the writing of the character proved me wrong.


Kevin Costner, while not playing the Admiral Greer we Hunt for Red October fans have grown to expect, as always played a good mentor. Cmdr Harper’s character is more hands on than the past novel’s and film’s Greer. Costner’s Harper gets in on the action and shows up at any corner of the world he’s needed.  Cmdr Harper is mobile, younger and lower in the chain of command than Admiral Greer. He is a man who makes decisions himself, but still must take orders and follow protocols. This is a new take on the CIA contact than the usually ailing Admiral Greer of Jack Ryan movies past. I have made Mr. Costner the butt of a few jokes, but he plays roles well.

I was very surprised to see Keira Knightly in such a small role. But the character she plays is crucial in the plots development. Ms. Knightly is great in everything she’s in, this film is no exception.  Another note is that the trailers for this film were very deceptive. They pointed at a lot of plot points that weren’t there. To that I commend the films promotion team; this isn’t one of those movies where you know the entire plot 2 months before it premieres.  So if you were like me and scoured at the idea of another Jack Ryan movie, you need to think again.


One of the things I’ve always liked about Tom Clancy’s film adaptations is despite how improbable and fictitious the story is, the way the problem is solved is very realistic. I know this because I’ve spent years as a CIA operative and am crucial in solving actual covert international incidents. All kidding aside, a lot of “intrigue” movies focus on a team that works for the main character that helps him/her “win it for America”. Tom Clancy movies are not like this at all. Jack Ryan isn’t a “Keanu Reeves” of international intrigue, or a “James Bond” ladies man, dashing, crack shot. Dr. Ryan relies on an entire agency to help win the day. It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes an entire agency to find the crucial pieces of evidence to nail the international arms dealer. Jack Ryan is just a normal guy, who happens to get the bad guy before his plot to destroy Civilization is unleashed. He is believable and reminds me of my own Father for some reason.

So why did I like this movie and why should one take the 2 hours out of their day to watch it? It is entertaining, fun and smart. It is a modern Hunt for Red October, but without Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery and a submarine. I was entertained every minute of the film. I enjoy that these Jack Ryan movies never have Reboots, but are constantly updated with current events and a fresh political feel. This is however the first time, us the viewer, are given the Jack Ryan back story played out. It is different from the spoken and narrated versions we have been given in earlier films, but is a more updated version.  There wasn’t a lot of action, but the cool dialogue and modern intrigue were enough to fill out the films entirety. I will definitely be checking this one out again on DVD and Blu-Ray.


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