Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
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Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cert: 12A
Genre: Action
Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley
Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins

The late Tom Clancy was known for many things (well some things, anyway), but the drawing of character was not among them. Played by three actors in four films, the cinematic Jack Ryan – last seen 12 years ago in The Sum of All Fears – was less a personality than a mechanism primed to communicate the author's famously fanatical taste for research. We didn't really know who Ryan was, but we knew what silencer he preferred.

So, to what extent is Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (inevitably, an origin story) any sort of relative to the earlier films? Given that the previous Ryans – Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck – all seemed like different non-people, a through-line was always going to be hard to maintain.

The story is a new (if not original) creation unconnected to Mr Clancy: lured into the CIA by sinister Kevin Costner, Ryan attempts to dissuade Kenneth Branagh's evil Russian maniac from blowing up Manhattan and engineering global financial calamity.

It is a little less techie than before. Unhappy revelations have changed our attitude to the US security services. Cynics will have discerned clues to the studio's approach from the news that the film will be titled The Ryan Initiative in certain European territories.


Though much less of a loner than Jason Bourne, this Jack Ryan draws most of his key characteristics from the hero of those Robert Ludlum adaptations. Making no great attempt to establish clear blue water, the film-makers have even cast Chris Pine, the most Damonic of current stars, in the title role. You have to admire their chutzpah.

We have seen worse sub-Bourne potboilers (The Bourne Legacy, for one). Director Branagh zips rapidly through the hum-drum set up, before inviting Pine to punch, kick and shoot in ways outlined in the current industry-approved playbook: mobile camera, thudding sound design, broken, blood-stained urinals.

Unfortunately, a fusillade of bum notes constantly undermines the workmanlike film-making. Keira Knightley, playing Jack's girlfriend, reminds us why this otherwise undervalued actor rarely attempts an American accent. Branagh's scowling nut will do nothing for Russian-Anglo relations. And the attempts to make this CIA cuddly are little short of ludicrous.

At the time of his (shadow) recruiting, Jack casually brings up the issue of waterboarding and related atrocities. “Not my unit,” Costner replies. Oh that’s all right then. This is the nice CIA. If you say so.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist