After an absence of 12 years, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is back, with another hot young Hollywood star, a Brit playing a villain and the trials and tribulations of American/Russian relations on the line. The resulting film tries to balance the serious modern espionage of the Bourne Trilogy, with the high octane, audience friendly thrills of the Mission: Impossible series. However, in trying to mine the ground between the two, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a fundamentally compromised affair that is too light, ineffective and creatively bankrupt.

Chris Pine does well considering the limited nature of this interpretation of Jack Ryan, channeling the balance between homegrown Americana and defiant challenge to authority, but overall it is extremely disappointing to see Jack Ryan portrayed in such an ineffectual manner. The reality of the character has always been this hero’s trademark, but there is no grit or a sense of inner reserve (other than a tacked on, forced moment during a prologue recovery sequence). Perhaps the element that most damages the resonance of this interpretation is the reality that Chris Pine is far too polished to be the diamond in the rough; the decision to make Ryan into an inexperienced, youthful patriot is a critical misstep. An equally foolish decision was to retcon the origins of Jack Ryan’s heroism alongside the horror of 9/11. In a film concerned with tensions between U.S.A. and Russia, it relies on post 9/11 concerns and imagery, in particular the fear of terrorism and the vulnerability of modern urban society, to the point where the interesting elements of financial terrorism take a backseat to the tired ‘bomb in New York City’ trope by the film’s disappointing climax.

Even worse that the tepid action and the lack of identity, is the film’s romantic sub plot. Simply put…it is horrific. Keira Knightley’s role as the future Mrs. Ryan is a nightmare to behold; a collection of pouts and sour glances that coalesce into a perfect storm of emptiness and awkwardness. Her behavior at times is almost something out of a horror film as she desperately seeks the truth her boyfriend hides from her. It is more Single White Female than anything that should ever constitute a realistic honest relationship. Pine and Knightley have absolutely zero chemistry, making every forced moment of romance genuinely excruciating to watch, and impossible to empathize with.

The visual style is sharp and stylish, without being particularly distinctive. Cool, metallic tones dominate the aesthetic; but nothing lurks behind the sleek sheen. It is an artifice, nothing more. This is particularly evident during the action sequences of the film, which are handled without clarity; a mess of quick edits and bland shots without content that blur into visual redundancy. This is a film that looks good…but feels unoriginal, empty of vitality and identity.

This is the crippling flaw that undermines everything the film ultimately is: All gloss, nothing genuine. The casting of Chris Pine and Keira Knightley, the visual style, the story, the cultural commentary, the relationships…nothing rings true, everything feels safe and staid. This is a modern American spy thriller as paint by numbers; everything is coloured within the lines…but as a result, it is a work without true artistic identity or the brushstrokes of ingenuity.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a resounding disappointment; this could have been so much more than the hollow, formulaic waste it has become. This is a film devastated by its lack of ambition, other than to simply reflect other far superior spy thrillers. All gloss, nothing genuine…this is an imitation without heart, sincerity, thought or creative expression. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is nothing more than its title foolishly exclaims…a shadow.


VERDICT: [rating=1]

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: