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Movie Review: "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If you’re going to reboot a franchise, you might as well call Chris Pine.   In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, he slips into Ryan’s shoes as easily as he did Captain Kirk’s in the Star Trek reboot.  
Tom Clancy’s titular character has previously been played on the big screen by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, all of them with essentially the same back story -- a former Marine who’s injured in a helicopter crash, leaves the military and is ultimately recruited by the CIA as an analyst, though we’ve never seen it.   Here, we do.  When we first meet Pine’s Ryan, he’s in London working on his PhD in economics.  The date?   9-11-01.  He’s walking across campus when students start running past him.  He follows and winds up at a TV with others, watching the World Trade Center burn.
Eighteen months later, Jack is now Lieutenant Ryan, serving in Afghanistan when his helicopter goes down.  He winds up at Walter Reed hospital, wallowing in self-pity and overmedicating on pain pills.  It’s also where he meets Cathy -- Keira Knightley, who seems uncharacteristically uncomfortable in this role -- a physical therapist and Jack’s eventual love interest.
Enter Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who purports to be a highly-decorated Navy officer. Of course, Jack sees right through him -- he knows Harper has been watching him.  Harper offers to bring Jack into the CIA as an economics expert who will work on Wall Street to infiltrate possible terrorist economic plots.  It’s exactly what Jack needs to speed his recovery.
Ten years later, Jack’s working on Wall Street and living with Cathy when the CIA’s investment in him pays off: he discovers some economic malfeasance going on in Russia.  Up until this point, Jack has never been active in the field, has never had a physical altercation, never had to shoot a gun,  and certainly has never had to kill anyone.  When he’s sent to Russia to investigate, he gets to cross all of those things off of his bucket list.
Really, though, Jack doesn’t have a proclivity for any of these things, and Pine plays that aspect of Ryan perfectly.  He’s the right combination of bookish and charming; instead of playing the reluctant hero, he is the reluctant hero.
Director Kenneth Branagh is turning into quite the action helmer (Thor, uncredited work on Iron Man 2), and he does a nice job here ratcheting up the tension while keeping an over-the-top and unbelievable script relatively believable (you won’t break a sweat trying to keep your disbelief suspended).   He even plays the Russian bad guy.
Even though it often wades in clichéd waters, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is ultimately a satisfying thriller. The hope is that it does well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel, and not just because Pine is excellent in this role. But because next time, they can likely do even better.
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

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