I keep wanting to call this Jack Ryan: Shadow Hunter, but that sounds like some kind of Assassin's Creed game.
Just the other day I was telling someone how it bugs me when a movie shows you a cityscape with obvious landmarks, but then still bothers to put the name of the city on the screen, as if you were born yesterday. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit does this at least three times in the first few minutes. I can understand an American not immediately recognizing London, but when you see the Statue of Liberty a few minutes later, do you really need to see "New York City" displayed? Are we that stupid? Yes, that's rhetorical. This is done many times during the film, letting us know the names of buildings or airports despite having no bearing on the story or provide any useful insight. Does it matter what airport they're at when we already know their destination?
Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is attending school in London when he sees the reports of the attack on 9/11. He enlists in the Marines, but is shot down on a mission and has to go through vigourous physical therapy to regain the ability to walk. During physical therapy he meets a medical student, Cathy (Keira Knightley). They flirt, but part ways as she graduates. He's also watched and then recruited by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who wants him to be their inside man on Wall Street looking for financial patterns that may point to enemy action.
We fast forward 10 years and Jack's on Wall Street doing exactly that. He's living with Cathy now, and you'd assume they hooked back up shortly after the previous events, but later there's a reference in the movie to that they've only been together for three years. Did they reconnect after 7 years? How'd they meet up again? Plus, I'm a little disappointed that we jumped so far ahead, and don't get to see any of Jack's training or anything like that. More than a few times details that would have helped invest in the characters or story were skipped or glossed over.
Anyway, Jack discovers a pattern of suspicious cash movement, and he's sent to Moscow to investigate and perform an audit on the company in question. He's barely in Moscow ten minutes and someone tries to kill him. I've heard of people not liking auditors, but this takes it to another level. I guess Jack's on the right path, eh?
Shadow Recruit has an interesting enought setup, but then pretty much goes into cruise control. It's not that it's paced poorly, or is boring, but theres nothing here you haven't seen before. It has all the typical spy thriller tropes where plot holes and coincidences occur to always help the hero at the right moment.
Misunderstandings between characters occur when there was no reason to lie or mislead. For example, he lies about seeing an old movie, which was really just a cover to exchange data with a CIA handler. Cathy finds the ticket stub, and tricks him to see if he'll lie about it. Instead of just telling Cathy he caught a film at lunch, he fumbles through a bad lie that only makes her more suspicious of him. Plus, what kind of CIA agent wouldn't do a better job of covering his tracks, by you know, throwing the ticket away?
There's a moment during the climax where Jack is fighting a guy by a van, and then in the next scene he's driving that van, which probably should be undrivable due to water damage, with the guy he was just fighting now in the back trying to detonate a bomb. How did that happen? Did something get cut from the film? Did my mind totally wander while it skipped ahead? Also, why didn't either of these guys have a gun? Would been pretty useful in that situation.
After a somewhat disappointing performance in Star Trek Into Darkness, I thought Chris Pine bounced back well here. It was a good role for him and was one of the brighter spots of the film. I always enjoy Keira Knightley, but there's not much to her character for her to really sink her teeth into. Kevin Costner was goo, too, but was on autopilot for the most part. Again, it's not an issue with the performances, but more that none of the characters are all that interesting. Probably the most disappointing is Kenneth Branagh as the movie's villain. He's not particularly menacing, and they had to go out of their way to have him kill or beat his henchmen just so you'd think he was crazy. About the only thing you learn about him is that he has advanced cirrhosis. Just a generic movie bad guy otherwise. Even his plan, which involves manipulating the dollar to collapse the U.S. economy, doesn't exactly instill any kind of primal fear. When the plan is outlined, it's a bunch of financial mumbo-jumbo, and even Costner's character asks for it to be dumbed down when explained to him.
Also, the only available showtime to me was on IMAX, which I would definitely not recommend. There's zero value to seeing this on IMAX, and I'm shocked that it's even being offered as an option.
If you really need your spy thriller fix in the middle of January, then I suppose you could do worse than Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It's an entertaining, but very paint-by-the-numbers thriller without a lot of originality or creativity. I'd call it a solid rental and not something you need to rush out and see.
2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars