“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is an origin story that gets the late Tom Clancy’s signature superspy right.
To do so, it goes back to the character’s beginnings, back to incidents only briefly alluded to in 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October.” Those beginnings are all here in a tightly paced opening sequence: Ryan’s service as a Marine, his severe injuries in a helicopter crash while on duty, his long convalescence, his subsequent career as a financial whiz on Wall Street and his covert work as a CIA analyst.
What all that tells us is that writers Adam Cozad and David Koepp are thoroughly conversant with the Ryan mythos created by Clancy in his novels, and are careful to keep the character grounded in that mythos even though the larger story the picture tells is one wholly invented by them.
Ryan’s origins in the novels are in the Cold War; “Shadow Recruit” updates him to the post-9/11 era. In fact, the picture opens on 9/11, with the attacks on that day motivating him to drop out of college and join the Marines, who send him to fight in Afghanistan.
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Movies about the CIA generally depict the agency in one of two ways: as the department of dirty deeds done for nefarious purposes (the “Bourne” movies, for example), or as a bulwark against foreign forces dedicated to doing dirty deeds against us (“Zero Dark Thirty,” for example). “Shadow Recruit” falls firmly into the latter category.
Approached by a CIA recruiter (a flinty Kevin Costner), Ryan (Chris Pine) is hesitant. He brings up waterboarding and secret sites. The recruiter then appeals to his patriotism, and he’s in. And then, after 10 years of undercover work on Wall Street, he’s off.
Off to Moscow to use his financial expertise to try to thwart a Russian scheme to crash the U.S. economy cooked up by a steely-eyed oligarch played by Kenneth Branagh.
Branagh also directed, and he’s crafted an efficient thriller, though hardly an original one. The action sequences — car chases, shootouts, computer hackery, etc. — look like they were cloned from a Bond movie, or one of the “Bournes.”
The acting is first rate. Pine brings a youthful vigor to his performance and is a worthy successor to Alec Baldwin (“The Hunt for Red October”), Harrison Ford (“Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger”) and Ben Affleck (“The Sum of All Fears”). His scenes with Keira Knightley — Ryan’s longtime love interest, a doctor who helped him rehab from his war injuries — are very affecting.
His transformation from a desk jockey to a superskilled secret agent happens with absurd speed, but in a movie like this that’s par for the course. Pine pulls off the transition with panache.
With him in the lead and Branagh at the helm, “Shadow Recruit” is a thrill ride that delivers its thrills with skill and verve.
Soren Andersen: firstname.lastname@example.org