Blessed though the relative global truce may be in the aftermath of the death of the Cold War, moviegoers have missed the old yarns, put forth in 007 flix and other skulduggery cinema, pitting our capitalist heroes against evil-doers and conniving operatives back in the USSR. For those nostalgic for the good old days of Russian-accented villainy, proceed to your nearest theater for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Here the Russian rogue in question is none other than Kenneth Branagh, mastermind of a diabolical plot to destabilize/destroy the already fragile American economy and world power dominance.
Actor and also director Branagh, it so happens, emerges as the anti-heroic star of this show, despite the fact that handsome yeoman Chris Pine, who projects a clean “Boy scout on a field trip” look as Jack Ryan, is the de facto hero and namesake of this snappy little espionage thriller for the ‘10s. The film, the fifth in the Ryan series over the past 20-plus years, takes the character created by Tom Clancy for an original narrative spin, unconnected to any specific book.
Retooling the original Ryan character’s historical time frame, and making it more pointedly relevant to modern-day global angst, we are introduced to our hero as the towers go down on 9/11. We follow his path through a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, and his induction into the CIA by a stubbly Kevin Costner, who describes the unit as “the one that makes sure that we don’t get hit again.” “Getting hit” takes on a new meaning in the wake of terrorist plots on foreign shores involving internet manipulations and diabolical economic plots. Hmm, smells like post-2008 spirit.
Meanwhile, on the ground and very much in the realm of flesh, blood, and visceral gunfights and chase scenes on the streets of Moscow and Manhattan, the film juggles old school spy thriller excitement with high tech effects and pyrotechnics. Lovely, willowy but tough Keira Knightly costars as the love interest, and an unexpected pawn in the dangerous scheme in Moscow involving stealing incriminating data, triggering our fear for the well-being of a lovely damsel in the hands of the Russian-accent-wielding enemy. At the same time, across the world, more potential calm-exploding prospects are unfolding in Dearborn, Michigan, and on Wall Street.
Will our handsome everyman operative hero save the day in a brand-new way? Will the Russians be on the losing end again, for old-time’s sake? Have no fear: Shadow Recruit isn’t out to remake the genre, but the going is energizing enough to warrant a visit to the multiplex.