‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated October 17th, 2014 at 9:17 pm,

Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit Chris Pine Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review

Shadow Recruit falls short of realizing the character’s full franchise potential – resulting in a good but not particularly groundbreaking spy movie effort.

In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Chris Pine steps into the titular shoes of Tom Clancy’s famous leading man for a modern reboot story – chronicling the character’s first active field mission as a CIA operative. After suffering a debilitating injury in military service, Ryan is contacted by CIA team lead William Harper (Kevin Costner), who seeks to put the former marine undercover as a financial analyst. To that end, Ryan leads a double-life, hunting for potential terrorist organizations via suspicious trades on Wall Street, before coming home to his former-physical therapist-turned-girlfriend, Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley).

However, when Ryan uncovers mysterious (and exorbitant) transactions from a Russian firm, Harper sends him to Moscow to investigate. An unsuccessful attempt on his life and a frosty reception from the firm’s CEO, Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), forces Ryan to make a desperate play – putting his own safety directly in between malevolent Russian nationalists and a high-profile terrorist attack that would devastate the American economy.

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Chris Pine as Jack Ryan in ‘Shadow Recruit’

The Jack Ryan character debuted in Clancy’s 1984 novel “The Hunt for Red October” before appearing in (now) five films played by four different actors: Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October (1990), Harrison Ford in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears (2002), as well as Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit – a platform for rebooting the franchise with a more intimate story about the beloved character’s early days in the CIA. As a result, whereas Shadow Recruit succeeds at providing a cerebral story about counterterrorism and geopolitics, with a likable turn from Pine, the actual onscreen experience (not to mention heavy focus on romantic entanglements) might be slightly underwhelming for moviegoers that were expecting a more straightforward and action-packed spy adventure.

In general, Shadow Recruit offers an adequate storyline, one that is par-for-the-course in the Jack Ryan series. It’s not the smartest or most engaging premise and Branagh includes a few bizarre scenes that, while allowing for interesting character “moments,” are somewhat at odds with the larger plot. Still, the film attempts to be more brainy than some of its modern spy contemporaries, prioritizing plot over improbable action sequences (of which there are few).

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Kenneth Branagh as Viktor Cherevin in ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’

Screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp inject several key thematic callbacks that ensure Shadow Recruit is grounded in fallible characters and (mostly) believable drama – rather than cartoonish heroes and villains. A few minor twists keep the overarching plot from being entirely predictable; yet, despite pleas from Harper for Ryan to “dumb-down” any analyst speak, the narrative still leans heavily on heady exposition – some of which will, even to attentive moviegoers, become little more than white noise by the end.

Since Shadow Recruit isn’t about nuclear warfare or a new doomsday technology, it’s about manipulating fragile financial markets, it is important that viewers understand what’s actually at stake. To his credit, Pine manages to ensure that any rumination on global economics, financial trading, or terrorist patterns is interesting – even if it’s not always easy for the audience, along with some of the characters, to make the same connections. The actor is a solid as well as entertaining (although slightly generic) lead this time, conveying both Ryan’s inexperience and inherent attention to detail, which gets the job done but isn’t especially fresh or nuanced.

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Keira Knightley as Dr. Cathy Muller in ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’

While Keira Knightley’s performance as Cathy (Ryan’s girlfriend) in the film is fine, the character’s inclusion is mostly an unneeded distraction throughout the majority of the movie – falling into one contrived setup after another (suspicious girlfriend, distraction for the villain, or damsel in distress) without really adding any further understanding to the Jack Ryan character or the pair’s relationship. Strangely, Cathy actually sheds more light on Branagh’s Cherevin than she does Ryan.

In fact, Cherevin is easily one of the most captivating elements of Shadow Recruit. Branagh gives an engrossing performance in the role but he also ensures that the layered Cherevin is utilized in scenes that both reveal details about the villain and reflect larger ideological juxtapositions. Kevin Costner rounds-out the main cast as William Harper – a role that balances dry humor with no-nonsense authority. Aside from serving as a babysitter for Ryan, Costner isn’t given a very wide range of material to explore, but the veteran actor’s performance is still sharp.

Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit Chris Pine Kevin Costner Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review

Kevin Costner as William Harper in ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is also playing as a 2D IMAX experience and there’s absolutely no reason to spend extra money on a premium ticket. The film wasn’t shot with IMAX cameras and takes very little advantage of the larger screen space or improved sound.

Ultimately, the film is an adequate and enjoyable spy drama – albeit one that will not deliver the same explosive action set-pieces and mind-bending plots that audiences will have enjoyed in competing modern espionage dramas. The story and villain succeed in setting-up Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan for future adventures in the Tom Clancy universe but Shadow Recruit, as a standalone movie, is short on notable moments or characters. There’s reason to believe that future filmmakers will be able to develop engrossing Jack Ryan adventures with the assembled cast but Shadow Recruit falls short of realizing the character’s full franchise potential – resulting in a good but not particularly groundbreaking spy movie effort.

If you’re still on the fence about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, check out the trailer below:

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit runs 105 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language. Now playing in regular and IMAX theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news – and let me know what your thoughts on Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

Follow Ben Kendrick on Twitter @benkendrick
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  1. The movie is great, and the acting are top notch, very recommended! And by the way..I’m first! 😀

  2. Not that the star review matters, but it’s not showing up on the new mobile look.

    • Thanks, we know. It’s on the to-do list. :)

      • Sorry, not complaining, just wondering if I was the only one :/

        And since I’m using chrome it remembers my name and email so that’s no big deal :-)

  3. I’ll be watching this on Netflix. Looks fairly good.

    • You wrote that whole sentence just so you could fit in the word “Netflix.”

      • it’s a change from his usual “i’ll buy that dvd when it comes out” regular posts, but i was disappointed he didn’t include a dirty joke.

  4. Decent movie. Not as much focus on the intelligence side of the character we are use to from the previous films, but good reboot that bring about a sequel or two.

    • @Kevin Salina:

      Ben Affleck’s Ryan had an intelligence side? Just kidding.

      • The Batman side

  5. Did anyone even suspected this wasn’t gonna suck?

  6. Not a Criticism BK, I love reading your reviews, and I even follow you on the twitterer, but you’re very kind to this “thriller”.
    I was maybe 1 of 5 people at the 9pm show last night, and it was [to sum up] underwhelming. I didn’t expect much, considering it was a January release, but I felt like I wasted my loot on this one [and I see a lot of crap from time to time] I love KB in almost everything he does, and he was funny and intriguing in some scenes, but the dialogue [may not have been his fault] seemed rushed and “weak”, I guess you wrote that as “wasn’t given much to work with”, CP was average at best, again, “wasn’t given much to work with”. I like the direction KC’s character was going in, but also, “wasn’t given much to work with”, and the final chase scene was sooooo predictable; in fact, most of the movie was predictable. even KB’s exit scene. the only character I didn’t care for was KN. Pointless; waste of time; and poorly acted. her saving grace, I suppose was the scene with KB, as you said, perhaps one of the more interesting of the lot. I rarely leave the theatre mad, but I was pretty upset last night. I should have gone to see “Her” again, or “the Other woman”, or “The Past”, or “Lone Survivor”. All different Genres, but all miles above this film in terms of … everything… for me… it was a disappointing effort, though I still love KB’s films and I still love to read your reviews BK!

    • Sir,

      I don’t know what movie you watched, but IMHO and my wife’s this was the best Jack Ryan since Red October. Our theater was full, except maybe two seats. The response was great in that the people applauded after the ending. We liked it very much and would give 4.5 out of 5.

      • Do people still clap at the end of films? Whoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

      • I went to a matinee showing that was packed as well and the movie got the same reaction, lots of applause. It’s a classic thriller, very intense from the beginning to the end. I thought it was full on action with brilliant, attention grabbing gadgets, special effects, and had an intriguing plot that’s really a sobering reminder of how fragile any country’s economy is on any given day especially as our nation prepares to spend a ton of money aiding Russia in protecting our citizens/athletes over there in the next coming weeks. Well written and well paced, I heard no complaints from anyone exiting the theater. Speaking for the people I went to the movies to see this with, I’m sure we all would give it a 5.

  7. I saw this film last night. It’s a good film and I think a 3/5 is a fair evaluation. It was entertaining and all but it felt like there was something missing from the film. It felt much like MI for me which isn’t bad but is not exactly “must see” movies. I would much rather have waited for it to be on Netflix, IMO

  8. I thought that Kenneth stole the show. Enjoyable but not great.

  9. I liked it a lot. It’s a good popcorn film… but the truth for me is that it didn’t felt like a Jack Ryan movie. It felt like an average spy movie. Ryan is not Bourne nor Bond. Still good movie.

  10. what about directing and editing, i hear it has a lot of quick cuts and the like which in my books equals ‘don’t bother wasting time’.

    would be good if you guys talked more about technical aspects like editing and camera work for action movies, so that readers know what kind of garbage they might accidentally walk into (i’m very hesitant to go see whatever ‘looks interesting’ nowadays).

  11. An absolutely great spy-thriller. Starts off like a Graham Greene Novel and then goes ballistic. All the acting was top-notch with a great story.

    At the end of a packed theater you could hear the entire audience let out their breathes from the suspense.

    The sequel should actually begin where this one ended using a continuation of the same plot-line since the “bad guys” in this film were not going to simply give up what they had planned for so long…

  12. We really enjoyed the movie. I would put it 2nd behind Clear and Present Danger. What we really did not like was Kiera Knightley. Her and Pine had zero chemistry and she came off like one of my crazy ex-girlfriends from back in college. She just did not fit into the movie at all. On the other hand Chris Pine did a great job acting with Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branaugh. He held his own against some fine veteran actors. Shadow Recruit could easily be the foundation for several other Clancy universe films. I would say this will be on heavy cable rotation the next few years and we will probably see a decently funded sequel by 2018.

  13. The last paragraph could sum up all the Jack Ryan films at this point, none of which really fulfilled their potential. Even the best of the bunch The Hunt For Red October only managed to be better then the rest by being the first… Harrison Fords entries were notable but lacking in tension and Ben Affleck’s version although more action orientated didn’t have the conviction to pull off something special. It seems like the character needs more Bond or Bourne elements in its universe to really deliver.

  14. I saw the movie twice this weekend. I was not impressed at the first viewing but because I like Chris Pine I saw it again. The second viewing was actually more enjoyable. Chris Pine is a very good actor who can be vulnerable, strong, funny, touching, and occasionally like a little boy. Kiera Knightley was a poor choice as his fiancé (although I think she is a good actress). I wanted more clever and witty dialogue between Chris and Kenneth as well as Chris and Kevin. It needed more time to develop the plot. The solution came too quickly without enough suspense. And I wanted to see more of Moscow. But I hope Chris gets to do a sequel and that Kevin Costner returns as his mentor.

  15. I took the movie for what it was — a set up. The whole point was to establish the franchise which was a wise albeit untimely decision giving the current demand of films of this nature. All actors delivered solid performance but again didn’t have much to work with. I kind of liked that the set pieces were plausible (at least for an action film) and provide a substantial amount of suspense. I am looking forward to a sequel for this film as I love espionage stories. I was under the impression Jack Ryan was an American James Bond. Let’s see if producers can make this happen!

  16. I closed my eyes in the beginning and left before the end, because I really wasn’t interested interested in the NYC scenes. Having survived 9/11, I’ve seen enough.

    I really enjoyed the Russian Mafia aspect.

    Agreed that Keira Knightley cannot act, given stupid role–suspicious girlfriend, distraction for the villain, or damsel in distres–and wasted precious screen time. I actually was hoping that she would get killed off by mid-movie.

    I’m not one for jittery camera movements. The scene in the airplane with Chris Pine getting info from analysts was too much like watching Harvey Levin get info from his TMZ interns.

    Generally, Chris Pine and Kenneth Branagh acted well.

    Fine product placement by BMW.

    All in all, basically a good story line and good spy drama. I would recommend it. In fact, I think that I like it better than Skyfall.

  17. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a great reboot. I reminded me of the Harrison Ford type movie. Great movie!!!