Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – Clancy’s Jack-Of-All-Trades Hero

Following the publication of his critically appraised first Jack Ryan novel, The Hunt for Red October in 1984, American historian and thriller writer Tom Clancy (1947- 2013) kept us all on the edge of the seats for decades reading the latest adventures of his all-American hero Jack Ryan.

They always left you with a smile on your dial, anticipating more to come.

The first in a series of seventeen books, The Hunt for Red October was a cold war spy novel about an incredible chase underwater taking place in the world of submariners.

When the Hunt for Red October became a movie in 1990 with everyone’s favourite actor the original James Bond Sean Connery as the wily Russian Submarine captain, with youthful actor Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan, the stage was set for a roller coaster ride of thrilling movies where using your brain was more important than brawn.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan was the hero of everyman; a man with the courage of his convictions.

He had a moral compass at the centre of his being, which always pointed him in the right direction to solve the puzzle. Jack was all about out-thinking the enemy to get ahead of the game.

Today there are many people who would like to keep Clancy’s legacy alive, especially since he moved onto higher ground in 2013.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan hero, was such a likeable interesting character of many parts, especially when played by renowned actor Harrison Ford, complete with boyish charm, endearing earnestness and great style.

Jack Ryan had a strong sense of justice and hated incompetency. His deep love of family and country motivated him forward and his giant brain worked through what was going on, drawing his audience into his mind games as part of the process.

The all-new story for the latest movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit tells how Ryan, whom we are never allowed to forget has a Ph.D., became involved in the world of espionage in the first place.

Jack’s motivated to join the CIA by the trauma of watching the tragedy that was 9/11 in New York played out on television while he’s in London studying at university.

You sold this as an office job…says one of Hollywood’s fine young leading men actors Chris Pine (Star Trek I and II) as Jack Ryan wryly to stalwart actor Kevin Costner, featuring as Thomas Harper his ‘commanding officer and recruiter’.

Harper smiles enigmatically back as he welcomes his new charge to the secret world of spies, cold wars, hot wars and political bastardy, handing Jack Ryan his gun and telling him he’s ‘operational’.

Kevin Costner as Jack’s mentor and spy master, who plots his new recruit’s path out of a sticky situation, is great casting. Costner has just the right touch and experience to be convincing.

The movie is directed by all time great of both stage and movies, Multi Award Winning British Actor Kenneth Branagh.

He gave himself the role of the mysterious and villainous Russian terrorist Viktor Cherevin and plays it competently, but not compellingly or chillingly as I would imagine Cherevin to be, especially when we discover he’s a psychopath with a perchance for power (aren’t they all). I just didn’t feel the ‘menace’.

Chervin’s out to destroy any good will that may have been built up between the US and Russia since the end of the cold war. It doesn’t suit his purpose, or his pocket book, to have them coming over all friendly towards each other at all.

With the aid of technology, Branagh and his producers are taking their hot new ‘Jack of all trades’ back to invent a whole new future for the all-action hero.

The plot has him putting his own safety directly in between malevolent Russian nationalists and a high-profile terrorist attack that would devastate the American economy.

The Jack we know and love is first and foremost full of doubts about being a CIA agent. He needs to be convinced he’s doing the right thing. He wants to understand why, not just blindly follow orders and ideologies.

In this as a covert CIA analyst Jack uncovers a Russian plot to crash the US economy with a terrorist attack and he’s the man they want active to lead the operation to foil the plot.

Chris Pine as Jack Ryan is certainly going from strength to strength as an actor and proving himself not only to be a versatile, but also a dashing leading man. He still has great depths to his character impersonations to be fully realised.

Red carpet London, Premiere of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - Chris Pine & Keira Knightley

He’s very good at his craft and completely convincing in many scenes, especially those based around Ryan’s recovery from an injury that may have seen him never walk again. He nails it.

After that there are a number of wild swings in plot that seem to have no rhyme or reason and after it’s all over you can’t help feel his character formation has been let down big time by the writers.

They turn Jack Ryan into a cardboard cut out of the fabulous character he’s meant to be, instead of building him up deliberately and steadily.

They needed to give us all a solid basis to know why he would become such a man of substance, one we would all be yearning to learn more about.

Ryan is forced to make such incredible leaps in logic, which seem to have no basis in fact at all. If you think about it even for a minute, for such a man with a Ph.D facts are not unexpectedly, exceedingly important and laying them out as part of his thought processes.

Pine is the right Ryan too, but at times he is often left floundering with dialogue that does not make sense. Perhaps they were hoping the various action packed thrill chases he is so good at too, would make us not miss meatier bits?

British actress Keira Knightley features as Cathy Muller, the Doctor who helped Jack Ryan to recover from injuries that threaten to leave him in a wheelchair.

Not surprisingly she becomes Jack Ryan’s girlfriend. However she unsettles him by landing in his hotel in downtown Moscow while he is there on secret assignment.

She finds out though that what she has done is landed herself right in the middle of a game of cat and mouse and she’s the cheese!

Meant to be a brilliant intelligent Dr herself, the one who aided Jack in his recovery from injury, surely by now in their relationship we know has been ongoing for a decade, she would trust her man and not follow him at great difficulty to Moscow like a jealous teenager or old school atypical blonde bimbo?

By way of contrast to those actions, she and director Kenneth Branagh as the arch villain not only have a great connection but also personally indulge in some intriguing highly intelligent British boy’s club thespian inspired dialogue at dinner, enjoying themselves immensely.

By this time she has become the distracting diversion Jack needed as he feigns being drunk, nicks outside, races across the street and more or less saves the world in a few minutes without really being missed!

Now I love a bit of fantasy and can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but this was stretching the old grey matter just a bit boys. This whole set up should have been far more convincing from go to whoah.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a boys own style of spy movie that will satisfy many. Sadly I was left thinking that while I enjoyed it in the moment with my movie buddy, who doesn’t like a wizz bang thriller ride, that it should have been so much more.

It certainly really deserved to be so, especially with such a great cast and crew.

J’adored catching Russian defector and ballet master Mikhail Baryshnikov in a cameo role disguised as an old school Kremlin cardinal, one he clearly relished playing. Ballet dancers of certain years certainly make great villains, loving the drama of it all.

This reboot of the series while based on Clancy’s characters, was written by Adam Cozad, a Hollywood hot property screenwriter, who is currently involved in multiple projects according to some sources.

He teamed up with experienced screenwriter David Koep (Mission Impossible 1996, Jurassic Park 1993, Spider Man 2002 and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 2008) to bring Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit to fruition. So with those credentials we should have had high expectations that would be met.

They certainly start with a good backstory to explain the espionage entry, which Pine as a recovering soldier plays very convincingly.

However instead of adding real weight to the story by building up his personality traits in a measured way, in truth they try to turn him into a Mr Mission Impossible, which is not nearly as interesting.

Don’t underestimate your audience and their intelligence guys, you cannot patronize people today.

They now have a real diet of excellent drama series shows on free tv and cable, all produced by very competent writers streaming into their homes on a daily basis. This is helping us all to hone our appreciation for the written word and really good scripts.

You just can’t pull the wool over our eyes any more with spectacular chases; motorcycles going over jumps, youthful heroes dodging bullets, and beating up trained assassins in fist-fights all in one fell swoop. They are fun for adults, but today we need more.

The contemporary audience wants and needs to engage emotionally with the heroes of the modern age.

It’s become an integral part of western cultural DNA.

Must admit I agreed with the reviewer who said so well “…instead of embracing dramatic complexities and setbacks, all the better to make the most of them creatively, screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp steamrolled right over them, to uninvolving effect.”

You didn’t draw us in and make us buy in.

Chris Pine was excellent in two thrilling Star Trek movies to date. It would have been very satisfying to see him move into the contemporary thriller idiom as Clancy’s Jack Ryan for a number of movies.

He is the right man in the right place at the right time with just the right sort of charisma, courage and talent to play the depth of character author Tom Clancy gave his hero.

Over twenty years Jack Ryan’s career evolved in Clancy’s books, just like everyone else does. Eventually he ended up President of the United States, with full ‘Command Authority’, working with his son Jack Junior to save the world from global conflict, so the potential for more movies and retaining people’s interest is certainly there.

If the money decides to make a second in this rebooted franchise, and they can talk them into coming back, then they better make sure they do not waste such a fabulous ensemble cast of great actors again.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept, 2014

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