Blu-ray Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

STUDIO: Paramount | DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh | STARS: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley, Colm Feore
RELEASE DATE: 6/10/14 | PRICE: Blu-ray/DVD Combo $39.99, DVD $29.99
BONUSES: audio commentary, featurettes, deleted/extended scenes
SPECS: PG-13 | 105 min. | Action thriller | 2.35:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video | Overall

The first question that came to mind while watching Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was, “What were they thinking?”

The latest entry in Paramount’s series of action thrillers featuring the Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” character, Shadow Recruit is not a horrible movie, but, more pointedly, it cannot be considered a part of the official Clancy canon either, given that it fixes the fledgling CIA career of the titular Clancy hero in 2013, well after he’d risen through the Washington ranks to become president in the novels. Nor is the story based on any of the late author’s books. That said, when viewed as a stand-alone spy thriller, it’s a flawed but passable work.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Chris Pine is Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Following a Marine tour of Afghanistan and his recovery from horrific injuries sustained when his chopper is shot down, young Jack Ryan (Chris Pine, Star Trek: Into Darkness), an economics whiz, is tapped by “The Farm” to work at a Wall Street trading house to follow the potential funding of terrorist operations against the U.S. So, to be clear, this film isn’t concerned with chasing terrorists or international agents—it’s mostly about analyzing their books. Yes, there are consequences and some exciting set pieces when the action shifts to Moscow and Ryan, along with his fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina), confront Russian business mogul Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn), but the script gives us too many improbabilities, and relies once too often on the cliché of the omniscient protagonist.

Indeed, one of the featurettes on the disc is called “Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room,” and while the character has been portrayed as highly intelligent in earlier films, there’s a big difference between analytical experience imbued with book smarts (as in the Alec Baldwin-Harrison Ford era), and the lucky guesses of a young CIA recruit. The rebooted Jack Ryan is too sharp for his britches, and while Pine makes a good rookie spook, the epiphanies feel unearned.

The Blu-ray also includes video love notes to Pine as the “thinking man of action” and Branagh, who also directed (the first time he’s both starred in and directed a movie in 13 years, we’re told). “The Old Enemies Return” supplement has more meat, as it looks at the history of the Cold War and the continued strained relationship between Russia and the U.S. We also get a commentary track with Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

On paper and in studio meetings, Shadow Recruit probably had a lot going for it. Unfortunately, for espionage buffs raised on the “Jason Bourne” films instead of the books of Tom Clancy, this will go down as a mediocre entry in the genre at best. Here’s hoping for a return to stories based on the actual novels – so many are ripe for the big screen – or, at least, a sequel that feels like it should be part of the oeuvre.


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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.