One wonders why, if Paramount were so keen to reboot the Jack Ryan franchise — and in fact developed a pretty good movie to do it with — that they would suddenly treat the whole endeavor like an embarrassment. How else could they explain such a high-end production given the feckless title of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, followed by a January release and the kind of ad campaign normally reserved for direct-to-video Russian imports? Jack Ryan died an unsurprising death at the box office, a lamentable state of affairs obscuring a film that deserved better. Hit the jump for my Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Blu-ray review.
Proof of the film’s credentials starts with director/co-star Kenneth Branagh, someone miles away from the studio hack one expects from a production like this. Add to it a reliable cast — topped by a surprising return to form from Kevin Costner — and you have something much more than its forgotten theatrical release would suggest. There’s too much talent on display to screw this up, and when coupled with a reliable espionage plot, it makes for a surprisingly entertaining little thriller.
Reboots are all the rage in Hollywood these days, and for this one, we return to Ryan’s (Chris Pine) origins as a CIA spy. Injured in a helicopter accident in Afghanistan, he finds himself wooed by a tight-lipped operative (Costner) to help monitor the financial world for possible malfeasance. In the process, he stumbles into an ambitious plot from a Russian businessman (Branagh) to send the United States plunging into economic Armageddon.
The details make for quite a yarn (to paraphrase an earlier admirer of Clancy’s work), but the plot alone is less interesting than the way Branagh unfolds it. Ego intact, he gives himself not one, but two grand entrances, though admittedly his character is engaging enough to justify it. So too is Pine’s Ryan, fixed with a clear sense of right and wrong and yet forced to lie to his girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley) in order to maintain his cover. The human interaction gives the scenario its interesting qualities, and while Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn’t skimp on the set pieces, it constantly circles back to the determined figures at the center for its dramatic energy. That’s not enough to supplant memories of The Hunt for Red October or Harrison Ford’s great outings with the character, but it does set a reasonable bar for expectations in the future.
The film’s dismal box office performance probably means we won’t be seeing much more of this new Jack Ryan, which is a pity. Critics complained that Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn’t move with the times, resurrecting an old-school Soviet adversary when someone more 21st Century is called for. But Clancy was always a creature of the Cold War, and while he dabbled in alternate arenas (with Patriot Games among others), the Russians were always his bad guys of choice. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit earns some distinction simply by not following the bin Laden playbook –quite done to death of late — and Vladimir Putin’s recent forays into the Ukraine suggests that there’s still some mileage in those old Russian boogeymen yet. That makes the film feel a little fresher than it might have back in January, and along with its other assets, turns the Blu-ray release into something worth paying attention to. Ryan’s narrative is based on second chances, after all, and this outing really has earned one.
The Blu-ray itself is dependable, if unexceptional. The extra features include a very strong audio commentary from Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, a series of behind-the-scenes features running about forty-five minutes in totem, and a set of deleted and extended scenes. This comes on top of high quality audio and video, suggesting a care that the film could have used from the PR department during its initial release.