After recovering from a a grave injury suffered on duty in Afghanistan, former US Marine Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is approached by CIA operative Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Recruited he goes undercover on Wall Street in a duel role of agent and analyst when he recognises a plot developing involving billionaire Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) who plans to crash the dollar and bring the United States to its knees.
Based on a series of books by Tom Clancy, the character Jack Ryan has appeared in 4 films leading up to Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Initially played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October, it was then Harrison Ford who took the mantle in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger before Ben Affleck starred in The Sum of All Fears. This Jack Ryan, played by Chris Pine goes back to the characters roots, forgetting the predecessors and shows him being recruited into the CIA as an analyst.
Instead of deep-seated espionage, we are now treated to a somewhat stylised action film complete with its own Bond-style villain Viktor Cherevin, played with scenery-chewing gusto by director Kenneth Branagh. It’s a little anachronistic to have such an over-the-top villain (complete with stupid accent) in a film that is playing things a bit more straight. Kevin Costner does better as the grizzled Thomas Harper, but his part is restricted by the need for endless formulaic action scenes.
Less impressive is Keira Knightley who is wasted in her role as girlfriend Cathy Muller. Presented as little more than window dressing, she becomes increasingly frustrating to watch. While the two have a decent chemistry, it’s very difficult to bring yourself to care about someone so annoying. It is a real waste of such a talented actress, but with a franchise due to follow providing the box office is fine there is room to expand her character to something more than a damsel-in-distress.
In the post-Bourne film world, Jack Ryan is a running, jumping action hero and the complexity of location and information has been stripped right back from the original Clancy books. Fortunately Pine gives a good account of himself, scaling back the cockiness and highlighting just how out of his depth his Ryan is. but with the most basic plot carrying the action it soon starts to drag.