Spy movie takes its sweet time
Latest for Tom Clancy character another great yarn
Saturday, Jan 18, 2014 06:00 am
Jack Ryan has had quite a career. As a well-experienced agent, he has stopped assassination attempts, intercepted in acts of war against the United States and won a covert war against drug lords in Colombia. Heís been in gun battles, car chases and manhunts where the bad guys clearly had the upper hand on him. Iíve never seen him sweat once.
Now, we get to learn how he got his start in the Central Intelligence Agency. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a very intentional reboot of the series based on the popular Tom Clancy novels. This one, however, is a distinct diversion from the espionage canon. It isnít based on any of the original novels but rather distils elements from them in order to make sure that we know who is who and what is what.
I donít think it makes a lick of difference. This film might not be as much of a yarn as the others were but itís still got a strong thread that balls up nicely into a tight, exciting knot.
Jack Ryan (now played by Chris Pine) is a young man, newly married to Cathy Muller, his former rehab physician. You see, he suffered a horrible back injury after his helicopter was shot down while on a mission in Afghanistan. We see this happen in an overly long yet somehow far too brief introductory sequence at the very beginning of the movie.
While recovering, he gets approached by the very dapper Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), a CIA agent who recognizes Ryanís brilliant analytical mind as a key asset to the financial intelligence division. And so he enters the world of intelligence and counter intelligence, espionage and counter espionage. Itís all covert operations for him from then on.
Because heís such a genius for intricate financial matters, he soon discovers a Russian plot to overthrow the American economy and he promptly gets switched from being a desk researcher to an active field agent. For an analyst, heís surprisingly adept at marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat and fast speed auto (and motorcycle) pursuit.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is an interesting movie. Perhaps it should have been two different movies; it has two personalities, after all. The first 30 or 40 minutes seem to be mired in the big bullet points to establish our heroís character and hi a quick glimpse of him in university, a few minutes of the helicopter crash and the subsequent recovery periodÖ
Of course, someone must have thought those were necessary to establish things before they get interesting but it was more like watching bread in a toaster. ďWhen is this thing gonna pop?Ē you keep asking yourself, while the machine takes its overlong, unendurable time. As we start to see the friction develop between Ryan and Muller over his secretive nature, it seems like we have sat down to watch a James Brooks relationship drama without the sense of humour. Credit co-writer Adam Cozad for this. Itís his first screenplay. These skills take time to learn.
And then, yes, the toast pops and practically hits the ceiling with force. Credit co-screenwriter David Koepp for this. Heís a seasoned vet who really knows how to squeeze every ounce of tension out of a scene.
Ryanís Moscow excursion escalates quickly to feature gunplay, car chases and terse exchanges of dialogue with his new nemesis, Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed this potboiler). Try to follow the details of the furtive economic subterfuge if you will but once the action gets going, you will forget all about it. You will even forget that a man with a chronic back injury probably should not be involved in such behaviour, wrestling and jumping and running on hard pavement and the like.
Shadow Recruit quickly switches from second to fifth gears and it stays there. As basic as the good guy/bad guy storyline was, my heart was racing and I was on the edge of my seat for the last 40 minutes. The intense, adrenalized action was very effective; I even found a dinner scene between Ryan, Muller and Cherevin to be a nail biter. Branagh is a skilled actor and his Russian mastermind character, while nearly caricaturish, comes across as far more steely and realistically ruthless than any Bond villain ever could.
In the end, I was totally satisfied that I had seen a bona fide action movie. Thank goodness that I stayed till the end. If I had left when I wanted to then I would have missed everything.