Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Monday, January 27, 2014

From Russia With Psychotic Financiers

Before we get things started, some links to look at. Over at our joint blog, we've got another Snippet Sunday post set up. And since this is winter, and for some inexplicable reason some people dislike winter, I have two winter blogs for your consideration at Cindy's page, where winter has taken quite a turn, and at The Maple Syrup Mob, where winter drags on. And over at Norma's page, she's taking part in a giveaway featuring multiple books and authors. Now then, as for today, we've got ourselves a movie review to look after...

"You Americans like to think of yourselves as direct. Perhaps you are just rude." ~Viktor Cherevin

"You Russians like to think you're poets, but perhaps you're just touchy." ~ Jack Ryan

The new film Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit takes on the signature character- a response to the James Bond character, only American and monogamous- from the late writer Tom Clancy and puts him into a new era in an original story. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, this reboot of sorts refashions Ryan while also fitting back into the sensibilities of the Cold War, what with featuring Russians as villains.

The film resets Ryan (Chris Pine, Star Trek) as a grad student in London who watches the events of 9/11 from afar, ends up joining the Marines, is wounded in action, and meets his future wife Cathy (Keira Knightley), a doctor. He also comes to the attention of William Harper, a CIA officer, who recruits him into the Agency.

In the present day, Ryan maintains a cover on Wall Street as an executive, using his position in the financial world to monitor financial transactions that might suggest terrorist activities. He uncovers irregularities pointing to an embittered Russian oligarch, Viktor Cheverin (Branagh) that could wreck havoc with the American economy, and the path takes him down roads that lead to the full understanding of just what Cheverin has in store for the world.

Branagh does double duty here as director, helming the film. He's got a good record in that respect, with films as varied as Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Peter's Friends, Dead Again, and Thor to his credit. He knows how to crank up suspense as a storyteller, and the technical details of filmmaking. He can craft a fight scene or an action sequence very well- the climactic sequence here, for instance. Branagh infuses tension into the film as he goes along. And as an actor with a Shakespearean background, he has an innate understanding of character personalities and the eccentricities of actors, both of which are good things for a director to know. He assembles a crew that for the most part does their job well- one exception being the flaw of the film- and makes good use of locations for filming. His frequent musical collaborator Patrick Doyle returns to compose the score, and does a fine job with it.

The flaw, however, is in the story itself. Screenwriters Adam Kozad and David Koepp went with an original story as opposed to adapting one of the novels. This has something of a double edged sword kind of quality to it. The Clancy novels tend to be huge, expansive works, and don't lend themselves well to adaptations into film. The financial attack side of things in the plot hints at a similar plotline in the novel Debt of Honor, but that's the only other link, aside from Jack and Cathy, to the novels. Writing this as an original story tends to have its drawbacks, and that shows itself. Recrafting Ryan's origins isn't as successful as the writers might have wished, and there are slow spots in the script that the cast and director have to overcome. Generally once things move to Russia, the film picks up and finds its pace, but the inconsistencies and derivativeness of the script can be a hindrance. 

Branagh chooses his cast reasonably well for this, and they help him elevate the film above the story. The smaller supporting roles have interesting casting. Former ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov turns up in an uncredited role as a Russian official, which was a surprise, and he seems to be enjoying the role. Colm Feore, the exceptional character actor you've seen many times over (and who in fact appeared in the last Ryan film, The Sum Of All Fears as a villain) turns up here as well. 

Branagh himself nearly steals the entire film as the villain, having a ball and chewing the scenery. His Cherevin is a nasty, coldblooded piece of work... but he's also a whole lot of fun. Costner is also well cast here as the career Agency field man, accustomed to being at headquarters or out in some rough spot doing what needs to be done. There's a cynical gruffness in his performance that suits the character, and Costner makes him feel genuine. 

This brings us to the two leads. Keira Knightley has a varied resume of roles as an actress; perhaps as a result of the weaknesses of the script, she doesn't really come into her own as a character until she turns up in Russia and gets involved in Jack's work. She's oddly enough at her most compelling and strongest while sparring with Viktor. Pine is now the fourth actor to take on Jack Ryan, after Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck. He gives the character a different take, more of an action emphasis than previous performances. Like Knightley, he's trapped somewhat by the hindrances of the script, but that's no fault of his own. What he does convey quite well is the man who can think quickly on his feet, an essential element of the Ryan character.

Despite the flaws of the script, director, cast, and crew rise above it and give us an entertaining spy thriller. It  is enthusiastic about that. Will there be more of Jack Ryan to come? Is it possible to adapt one of the novels? Or with the passing of the author, is this the end of the line for Jack Ryan as well?


  1. Now I really want to see this! I think not drawing from Clancy 's works is a plus, but that's just me. I had trouble staying with his novels (TIM).

  2. It certainly has an excellent cast William. I do admire Kenneth Branagh so much, Peter's Friends has been a favourite for many years. This genre isn't my usual cup of tea but I may have to make an exception with this one .. I know P will love it :)

  3. I'm glad despite the flaws, you'd still recommend it. I really want to see this one.

  4. The author passing could put a dent in the future of this series. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  5. Not a big Clancy/Jack Ryan fan so maybe I'll skip this one. I'm a little disturbed at the movies (and some novels) jumping back on the Russian 'bad guy' scenarios, too.

    Thoughtful review, though! As always!

  6. @Norma: and some of those novels are very much of their time and can't be adjusted to the current day.

    @Grace: It's been awhile since I've watched that one, but I'll have to remedy that!

    @Krisztina: good!

    @Kelly: it's possible that new novels will continue to be written, the same way Robert Ludlum's Bourne character has carried on since his death.

    @Cheryl: well, with Tsar Vladimir running the Kremlin, Russians as villains doesn't seem all that preposterous.

    @Shelly: thank you!

  7. Okay, I'll admit it: I knew I'd be seeing this one when I first heard it had Chris Pine in it. Not my general MO for picking movies, but sometimes... :)

    lol "for some inexplicable reason people dislike winter"--totally cracked me up! I'm afraid I'm one of those!

  8. I am a fan of Branagh. I have seen Henry V so many times I think I know it word for word. Dead Again is wonderful and I loved Much Ado About Nothing.
    This sounds good but I might have to wait for Netflix.
    Great review.

    cheers, parsnip

  9. Something always gets lost in the transition to film, but this sounds like they've done a hell of a job keeping things on the upscale.

    Great review!

  10. Enjoyable review.

    Not to change the subject but seeing the fine actor, Branagh reminds me of something that has bothered me for quite a while. Why does the hair of so many older guys turn dark red?

  11. Oh I didn't realize this was out. I like that cast for sure, altho Costner is my least fave of all, but certain roles he carries well. Sounds like a thriller worth my time .

  12. Excellent review! I didn't even know the movie was out, but it's now on my list to see! Thanks, William:).

  13. I might just have to give this one a go!


Comments and opinions always welcome. If you're a spammer, your messages aren't going to last long here, even if they do make it past the spam filters. Keep it up with the spam, and I'll send Dick Cheney after you.