Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Directed By: Kenneth Branagh

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

After his noble turn as Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel last year, Kevin Costner is trying to make a comeback this year.  As of right now, he's got five movies slated for release in 2014.  I think he's trying to fill the void of the all-American male movie star.  The proof is in the pudding.  Next month, Costner will portray a Secret Service agent in action thriller 3 Days to Kill.  This spring, he's tackling an inspirational football drama with Draft Day.  In the fall, he's even doing another sports movie as a track coach in McFarland.  To kick things off, he joins an ensemble cast in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the fifth big screen adaptation of Tom Clancy's novels featuring the beloved character of the same name.  If all of this doesn’t sound American, I don’t know what is.

For economics PhD student Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), everything changes on September 11th.  When he sees the Twin Towers decimated by airplanes and engulfed in flames, he immediately enlists and becomes a marine.  As fate would have it, Ryan ends up serving in Afghanistan.  While on a mission, his helicopter is struck by a missile, and he's critically injured.  Though he heroically and miraculously pulls his comrades from the wreckage, Ryan's spine is damaged, and he may never be able to walk again.  With the help of medical student Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) whom later becomes his girlfriend, he just might have a chance.  Meanwhile, CIA Agent Thomas Harper (Costner) is watching Ryan and waiting for his moment to talk to the former marine.

Harper sees Ryan as having a unique set of skills.  Ryan has learned his tradecraft as a marine, but he's also financially savvy thanks to his economic studies.  Harper has Ryan finish his PhD and get a job on Wall Street in a compliance role.  In this capacity, he'll be working as a CIA analyst uncovering financing for terrorism.  As time passes, Ryan establishes himself as a trusted employee at the bank.  One day, he discovers a number of unknown Russian accounts on the books and passes the information along to Harper.  Unbeknownst to him, Ryan has just discovered the first clue in understanding a coordinated effort to plunge the world into the Second Great Depression.  Harper sends Ryan to Moscow to "audit" client Viktor Cherevin's (Kenneth Branagh) secret accounts.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a surprisingly good action flick.  It's the fifth installment in a franchise headlined by four different leading men and a film that recently shied away from the uber-competitive holiday movie season.  Though the plot is muddled and the film plays as a pretty basic spy thriller, Jack Ryan is a bombastic blockbuster slickly directed by Kenneth Branagh (Thor) and full of outsized performances from all involved.  This nonstop thrill ride is the kind of entertaining mainstream fare we don't often get in January.  I have to say that I really enjoyed this one from Branagh.

For his part as our titular character Jack Ryan, Chris Pine gives us the irreverent Boy Scout we've seen in the Star Trek movies and This Means War.  Though his performance is nothing new, this is the first time he's done this in the context of a gritty thriller and it works.  For her part as Ryan's girlfriend and later fiancée Cathy, Keira Knightley can't quite seem to master an American accent.  That being said, she still brings a certain warm yet gutsy spirit to the film.  In his role as Ryan's boss Thomas Harper, Kevin Costner does exactly what he does best, delivering caustic one-liners with an unmistakable bite.  Finally, we have director Kenneth Branagh stepping on camera as the film's main protagonist Viktor Cherevin, and I must say that the Shakespearean actor brings plenty of menace to the role.

All in all, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is one fun romp.  This fifth installment gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of Chardonnay with this one.