DIR: Kenneth Branagh • WRI: Adam Cozad, David Koepp • PRO: David Barron, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mace Neufeld, Mark Vahradian • DOP: Haris Zambarloukos • ED: Martin Walsh • MUS: Patrick Doyle • DES: Andrew Laws •Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh
I imagine writers of espionage thrillers must miss the Cold War terribly. A collective baddie of such implied menace as the socialism-wielding mother-Russians that ambled behind the Iron Curtain for the better part of fifty years last century has not been since. In such a manner may the Kenneth Branagh (helmed and starring) Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the latest in a series of attempts to kick-start Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst’s adventures as a franchise ongoing since his 1984 inception, be called a work of nostalgia; There is no shortage of big bad Russians or the sort of non-cynical plot structuring and exposition that was kicked unceremoniously to the curb by a certain Bourne lad a little over a decade ago.
The set-up and plot are nothing awe-inspiring to wow at. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine taking most of his cues from the highly watchable Harrison Ford outings) falls in love with his doctor (a surprisingly endearing Keira Knightley) moments before being recruited by a shady CIA operative (the always excellent Kevin Costner) to keep an eye on Wall Street for terrorism funding. Skip ten years and meet Branagh’s forgettable big bad who’s been doing something with stocks and bombs and looks like he may be trouble and we’re revving to go.
What is most surprising in this film is the places it soars and fails. The hidden career tension between Knightley’s Cathy and Ryan is surprisingly engaging but anything else occurring on American soil falls relatively flat. In fact, any credit this film is due is earned, for the most part, from the moment Ryan’s plane touches down in Russia.
Branagh’s camera has fun swooping around the city, through opulent hotel lobbies and shiny bank offices. Well over half the decor of each interior gleams a potentially offensive red and brings one to mind of Tony Monatana’s office. There is a sense in the scale of the city that Ryan is truly alone there and this is nicely helped along by the sheer lack of Russia on-screen in most Western cinema. It is an excellent spot for some rough-and-tumble and Branagh delivers this in spades.
There is a one-on-one hotel bathroom fight that barges on screens and drags our bums to the edge of their seat a moment or two, very much the aesthetic descendant of Casino Royal’s opening and Torn Curtain’s midway murder, which Hitchcock famously shot with a mind to show how difficult it is to take life, an ideal ably communicated here. The remainder of Ryan’s Russian holiday is nicely decorated by a talky restaurant scene that might be a heist and a genuinely thrilling car chase. The Americans thankfully depart moments before it becomes clear we’re watching Mr and Miss American Pie vs. The Russian Stereotype, though this is a taint that lingers on the edge of every frame shot in Moscow.
The finale is constructed with all the surprise and intrigue of an actual Tom Clancy novel, which is to say there is not a great deal; it manages to abruptly pull the punch from what shaped up to be a rather rollicking second act and thus defuses the film’s purpose.
In making Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, esteemed Shakespeare guru Kenneth Branagh, as he did with Thor, has stepped out of his comfort zone and into that of commercial movie marketing. As the unsolicited offspring of James Bond and Ethan Hunt it barely succeeds, as a fun action romp it has as many hits as misses but as a film in general it brings nothing new to the table and may aptly be counted as Branagh’s least interesting work to date.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is released on 24th January 2014