Dedicated to the memory of Tom Clancy, who died in October 2013, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is an old-fashioned espionage thriller, which revives the writer’s most popular fictional character.
Unlike The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear And Present Danger or The Sum Of All Fears, Kenneth Branagh’s film is not adapted from a specific book in the series.
Instead, scriptwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp transplant the eponymous CIA operative into a modern-day terrorist scenario to lay the foundations for a new big screen franchise.
It’s solid, bombastic entertainment, punctuated by outrageous, briskly edited action sequences that owe a sizeable debt to The Bourne Identity and its influential sequels.
Cozad and Koepp meld present and past, harking back to the Cold War to generate friction between global superpowers America and Russia, then playing out a deadly game of cat and mouse using state-of-the-art technology.
The central plot, to de-stablise one country’s austerity-battered economy using the financial markets, seems frighteningly plausible.
The daredevil stunts and skirmishes are anything but.
Branagh’s film opens with footage of the September 11 attacks then jumps forwards two years to conflict in Afghanistan.
Enemy forces shoot down a US Marine Corps helicopter. On board is Second Lieutenant Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), who incurs massive damage to his spine. Thanks to encouragement from medical student Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), Jack learns to walk again and fatherly CIA agent William Harper (Kevin Costner) encourages Jack to return to university to complete his economics degree.
A decade later, Jack is married to Cathy and firmly in the CIA fold, looking for irregularities in overseas finance transactions that could tip the wink to future terrorist activity.
Recent findings suggest an imminent strike that could cripple the US economy. However, Jack has no way to verify his data from the confines of a desk.
So Harper promotes Jack to field agent and dispatches him to Moscow to follow up on his hunch.
While in Russia, Jack meets an enigmatic businessman called Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), who seems to be at the centre of the diabolical plot.
The mission is complicated by the presence in Moscow of Jack’s disgruntled wife, who doesn’t know her husband works for the CIA.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is solid, undemanding popcorn entertainment that doesn’t deviate from a well-worn path.
Pine is a likeable leading man but on-screen chemistry with Knightley is lukewarm at best.
Branagh downplays his villain when some Alan Rickman-style wild overacting might have injected some welcome levity into the deadly serious proceedings.
Big set pieces are orchestrated at a lick, including a climactic race through the traffic-clogged streets of Manhattan replete with the hoariest of narrative chestnuts: a bomb ticking down to doomsday.