Finally, some non-Middle Eastern bad guys.
That was my first thought when Jack Ryan, Shadow Recruit introduces us to Kenneth Branaugh’s Russian financial power broker, Viktor Cherevin. While the new-and-improved (okay, significantly younger than Harrison Ford) Jack Ryan (Chris Pine, Star Trek Into Darkness) becomes a war hero, financial analyst, and wooer of Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), Cherevin is slowly building a plot to take down the United States. And it’s not just a “how many people can we kill?” plot but actually a plan to topple the country’s economy as well.
Kevin Costner shows up as more than a cameo (a la Man of Steel), taking over for James Earl Jones as Ryan’s control with the CIA. He’s still the father figure/role model but it’s significantly more hands on that what we saw from Jones in the Ford version of the movies. The action takes awhile to build, but when it does, it seems like we’ve stepped into a version of Jason Bourne/James Bond that actually makes sense and seems reasonable (even if it’s not). But, wow, the action that we’re rewarded with is terrific, and still, Branaugh’s direction (remember Thor?) provides a more passionate, intimate spy than we’ve seen before.
If anything, this is more Patriot Games than Clear and Present Danger, or 2002’s reboot The Sum of All Fears. We see Ryan struggle with his purpose (is an analyst as much of a hero as a boots-on-the-ground type?) and his family (can he keep this a secret? will anyone accept him once they know?) Knightley plays Cathy (as I thought of her reading Tom Clancy’s words) to the hilt, and proves to admirably co-star with Pine, who provides feeling and gravitas to a role, making it more than just a shoot-’em-up.
We could all stand to consider how we’ve made others hate us, whether it’s individually or as a country. We could all use a good dose of big picture humanity. But for Jack Ryan, this is ultimately a question of character under fire, both in relationships and at work. He’s a hero that still has to go home, and he’s more easily related to than many of the other spy types we’ve been entranced by over the years.
Jack Ryan is the movie you walk out of wanting to be braver, drive faster, go the distance… but the sweetest moment came for me in the conversation about love and marriage. Ryan tells Cathy, apologetically, “You didn’t choose this life, I did,” and she replies, “yes, but I chose you.”
Whether you can relate or not, with a career that calls you to sell out and drag your family into it, it’s hard to miss that we have real-world thinking behind a big, explosive spy thriller. I’m grateful for that this week, in light of having watched heavy films like Fruitvale Station and The Butler lately. This was fun, but it still had heart!