Jack Ryan is almost a really good spy movie. It does mostly everything right and is closer to plausible than most of its ilk. However, it lacks the spark to be truly memorable. As well made as it is at points, it is still rote, seeming to only go through the motions of its genre.
Jack Ryan, based on the Tom Clancy character and played by Chris Pine, is a grad student who joined the military after 9/11. Injured during the war, he came home to arduous physical therapy, where he meets both Cathy, his beautiful physical therapist and eventual fiancé, and Harper, who invites him to continue serving his country as a CIA analyst. That is all covered in the first twenty or so tedious minutes. It sets up that Jack is a heroic, patriotic genius. Possibly necessary information, but it is delivered inelegantly. The movie picks up after that, with Ryan uncovering plot at the same time his girlfriend starts to unravel his secret life in the CIA. Soon, he is whisked off to Russia and he goes from being an analyst to an operative.
Shadow Recruit is ostensibly a thriller, with Ryan navigating the shadowy world of espionage, but there are few twists or betrayals. Everything is what is seems. The accounts that Ryan uncovered do hide a terrorist plot, so he must steal information to get the date that it is supposed to be executed. The Russian villains make it seem like a remnant from the Cold War, but since this is based off a book series from that era I guess that’s understandable. The good guys are if anything too good at their jobs. Other than being slow to uncover the plot that threatened to destroy the USA, they tend pull things off with the minimum of hitches, despite Ryan being untrained as an agent and Cathy playing a large part.
While the plot is somewhat trite, the film is buoyed by largely good acting. Pine is fine as the hero, especially after his first kill where he is understandably shocked. Kevin Costner plays Harper almost like the spy version of a sitcom dad, tough but fair. He does have some lines seemingly added to make him seem mysterious in trailers, which cloud things a little. Director Kenneth Branagh plays the Russian baddy, Cheverin, with charm and just enough menace to seem legit. Keira Knightly’s Cathy could do with being a little more fleshed out, but it still a solid character. She takes to Jack’s job with more enthusiasm than one would expect and does better with the deception that he does.
Shadow Recruit plays like the expected start of a franchise. I almost hope it does. The pieces are all here for a solid spy thriller. All that’s missing is the thrills. As long as the plot isn’t so pat as this one, a sequel could go from being okay to being genuinely good.