Published on June 7th, 2014 | by Sean Warhurst
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Blu-ray Review
Summary: Although competently shot for the most part, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ends up being a visually slick but ultimately hollow viewing experience, devoid of any real visual flair or personality.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Reviewer: Sean Warhurst
The fifth film in the series based on Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character (After The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears) and featuring the fourth actor to portray him after Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, the reboot/ Prequel (Rebootquel?) Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Setting aside the further continuity issues that arise in the series due to this entry, such as how could The Hunt for Red October take place during the cold war if Jack Ryan was still in college when 9/11 occurred (Admittedly, the lion’s share of the blame for the muddied timeline really should be laid at the feet of the previous film’s attempt to reboot the franchise), even when taking Shadow Recruit on its own merits as a standalone film, fans of both the character and espionage films in general will most likely come away feeling a little underwhelmed by Kenneth Branagh’s (Thor) latest effort.
The film introduces us to Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), a former student of the London School of Economics, as he embarks upon a military career after being inspired by the September 11 attacks. One helicopter crash later, Ryan is laid up in a hospital with a broken back, enduring daily rehab sessions with a young Med student named Cathy Muller (Kiera Knightley) overseeing his progress and gradually forming a bond together.
Ryan is approached by a CIA operative named Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) who recruits him to finish up his studies and act as a covert operative working in the financial sector on Wall Street to gather intelligence and analyse possible incidences of terrorist funding.
Flash forward Ten years later and Ryan, now living in New York and seeing Cathy on more than a professional basis, discovers some suspicious Russian accounts that appear to have been used in order to fund a terrorist attack with the ultimate goal of destabilising the American economy and bring about a second Great Depression.
Sent to Moscow in order to audit the accounts of Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), a wealthy industrialist and the man behind the suspicious financial activity, Ryan soon finds himself plunged into a web of intrigue as he struggles to stay alive in a foreign country fraught with danger with little more than basic CIA training and a highly analytical mind to guide him through.
Branagh’s direction is uninspired but serviceable, hitting all of the marks a slickly produced action thriller should; indeed, that seems to be one of the major problems I had with the film – Everything just seems to be by rote, regurgitating scenes and ideas from other similar films. Still, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit does have some strong points, such as the simmering confrontational attitudes between Ryan and Viktor, masterfully portrayed by Branagh and Pine as the two men engage in a battle of wits whilst maintaining an amicable façade.
There’s also a scene early in the film in which Ryan struggles to reconcile the fact that he’s just killed a man that hints a greater sense of depth to the character that’s unfortunately absent from much of the film once he makes his abrupt transformation into an “Action Hero”. It’s this aspect of the film that’s really a shame, as the character of Jack Ryan shouldn’t devolve into a motorcycle riding, face punching parody; instead he should be an ordinary, highly intelligent CIA agent thrust into a dangerous situation and forced to think on his feet, not become some uninspired pastiche of James Bond and Jason Bourne.
The cast do a decent job with the material and the production design is top notch; Chris Pine can come off a little wooden in some scenes (Ha ha, get it? Wooden!) but admirably carries what is a rather bland role relatively well. Branagh excels as the strangely sympathetic Viktor, adding dimension and a hint of tragedy to the character that, although it doesn’t amount to all that much by the end of the film, is a welcome addition amongst the other by-the-numbers elements of the film.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has a brilliant image that is practically reference quality, with Paramount’s 1080p visual transfer rich in fine detail and suffering no contrast issues. The image is crisp and clear, particularly during the brighter scenes, and the film features a solid colour palette and refined black levels that serve to enhance the viewing experience. There’s no sign of aliasing or banding and skin tones and colours in general are naturalistic and true to life, with every scene presented with dazzling clarity and attention to detail.
The transfer continues to excel in the audio department, with a dynamic DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track that robustly presents the score whilst dialogue levels and the action sound effects are just as accomplished, playing cleanly and taking full advantage of the directionality of a surround sound system with a rich and technically proficient transfer that effortlessly complements the impeccable quality of the image component of the film.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit comes with around an hour of supplemental features, not including the audio commentary for the film. There are four featurettes that explore the history of the Jack Ryan franchise throughout the years and the process of rebooting the character for modern audiences, a look into the construction of some of the film’s key action scenes, a piece that focuses on Kenneth Branagh, both as a director and in regards to his role in the film and a rather interesting overview of the real life history of Russia and the United States and how the film uses the modern relationship between these two countries as the main crux of the film’s plot; it is this featurette that offers the most enjoyment, in my opinion, as it offers a fascinating and educational look at the political influences behind the film rather than merely being another stock standard studio puff piece.
The deleted scenes are interesting enough but would have made no difference to the overall film had they been included and the commentary is arguably a more interesting experience than the film itself, with Branagh and di Bonaventura covering every aspect of the film’s production in great detail with a warm and engaging track.
List of Features:
– Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary by Kenneth Branagh and Lorenzo di Bonaventura (5:03)
– Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room (13:37)
– Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit (9:48)
– Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action (5:19)
– Old Enemies Return (21:13)
– Audio Commentary by Kenneth Branagh and Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Although competently shot for the most part, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ends up being a visually slick but ultimately hollow viewing experience, devoid of any real visual flair or personality.
The high quality of the disc transfer is unfortunately let down by the content of the film itself, which, although entertaining enough whilst watching it, is marred by an unimaginative and derivative plot; whilst everything is expertly executed for the most part, beyond the superficial thrills Shadow Recruit brings nothing to the table other than mindless entertainment.
Branagh is a relatively skilled director but his grasp on the mechanics of what makes an effective action scene is severely lacking, with close up shots and quick cuts serving to make action scenes unnecessarily confusing to watch rather than adding the intended frenetic quality.
Couple this with the bland story with its cardboard cut-out evil Russians and its overall generic quality and you’re left with an unremarkable and, even worse, unmemorable film that tries to capture the atmosphere of the far superior preceding instalments in the franchise but ultimately fails to make much of a mark.