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Article by Teddy Durgin

The New Jack Ryan Looks to Recruit a New Audience

Jack Ryan is pretty much the American James Bond. He's an action hero who has been cast and will continue to be re-cast, re-imagined and re-activated to fight whatever sick puppies this world churns out. Sometimes he'll be young. Sometimes he'll be older. He started his screen life as an upstart, CIA Cold Warrior, helping a Soviet-era submarine commander with a great toupee defect. In his next movie, he had quit the Agency, taken on a teaching job at the U.S. Naval Academy, and foiled an IRA plot against a British royal while on vay-cay. One film later, he was back in the CIA uncovering a plot within the U.S. government to wage a secret war against Colombian drug cartels. Then, he got young again and found himself racing against time to stop Baltimore from being nuked. And then Jackie Boy went away. And the real world got more dangerous with terrorists and terrorist cells threatening American interests all over the world. Cyber-terrorism emerged as an increasingly real threat. And Russian organized crime started to flex its muscle. "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" does a really nice job updating the all-purpose Tom Clancy character. In this reboot and re-imagining, Ryan (Chris Pine taking over for Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck) is a man who never served in Vietnam and never had to cast a wary eye towards the hammer and sickle. Instead, he's a dude who watched the Twin Towers fall in college, volunteered for the Marines and was shot down in Afghanistan. He's still a character who had to recover from a broken back and would go on to fall for a cute, young eye surgeon. But now, he's an undercover operative on Wall Street, scanning financial transactions and looking for any irregularities that might be sources of terrorist funding. He comes across one mother of an irregularity involving Russia looking to time a terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan with a massive stock sell-off to de-value the U.S. dollar and crash the world economy. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, "Shadow Recruit" is two-thirds a great spy thriller and one-third standard Hollywood hokum. I definitely like it enough to recommend it. But I wish the film's third act wasn't so tailored to provide loud spectacle and stunts for easy-sell trailers and TV commercials. I much prefer my spy junk like "No Way Out" or "Breach" - slow-burn capers where the walls close in over time and the covert hijinks are kept within the walls of power. When it's good, though, it's really good. And the major roles are extremely well cast, especially Kevin Costner as Jack's CIA mentor and Branagh himself playing Viktor, a formidable Russian baddie who dreams of returning Mother Russia to superpower status before he dies of a terminal liver disease. The film's best sequence has Jack's fiance, Cathy (Keira Knightley), having to keep the lecherous Viktor occupied at dinner while Jack uses the man's security card to break into his nearby office building and steal important data from his hard drive. It's a real nail-biter of a sequence, perfectly paced and it ends in extremely clever fashion. Less involving is when the stakes are raised for the film's big action climax in New York. Maybe it's just me, but I find it a lot more tense when it's a handful of good actors engaging in a battle of wits involving seduction, deception, slight-of-hand and such than one superhero agent on a motorcycle chasing a van filled with explosives and driven by a sneering terrorist looking to blow Wall Street to Kingdom Come. The takeaway from this film, though, is that the Jack Ryan franchise has been revitalized. Pine rather effortlessly makes the part his own, bringing both smarts and physical prowess to the role. I have no idea why this is a mid-January release when the only cold war Ryan will be waging is against the weather forecasts. But it's in theaters now and waiting to recruit moviegoers eager for good, solid entertainment.

"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is rated PG-13 for violence, intense action and brief strong language.

 

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