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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Blu-ray Review)

30 May, 2014 By: John Latchem

Street 6/10/14
Box Office $50.58 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.
Stars Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley, Colm Feore.

Tom Clancy wrote nine novels centered on the Jack Ryan character, and Shadow Recruit isn’t based on any of them.

With four other films having already been based on Clancy’s books, there would seem to have been plenty of options for a fifth. Instead, producers chose to craft an original story while infusing elements of the mythology from the novels to tell the tale of Jack’s first mission. This makes Shadow Recruit a second reboot of the franchise, after already trying that trick with The Sum of All Fears in 2002.

All this manipulation of the source material might have something to do with Hollywood’s obsession with depicting Jack Ryan as some sort of American version of James Bond, which, according to his depiction in the books, he unequivocally is not. Clancy’s Ryan was a CIA analyst, not an action hero, but at least Shadow Recruit acknowledges this fact before letting him turn into John Wayne.

At least we get to see depictions of Jack’s backstory established from the books (modernized to the times, of course). Following 9/11, Jack joins the Marines, where he is promptly injured in a helicopter attack. During his recovery, Jack is tapped by a CIA boss (a dour Kevin Costner) to finish his degree and take a job on Wall Street, where he can covertly track terrorist funding.

This lands Jack in the middle of the film’s main plot, a rather mundane bit of business involving manipulation of the dollar by a Russian operative (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed) with the intent of collapsing the U.S. economy. The details aren’t as important as getting the audience to follow the primary action beats from point A to B to C.

Shadow Recruit isn’t quite at the level of the earlier Ryan films, but it should provide a nice diversion to enthusiasts of the character. The lead performances are engaging enough, although between this role and Capt. Kirk in the rebooted “Star Trek,” Chris Pine is definitely establishing his brand as the cocksure, dashing young hero type.

The history of the Ryan film franchise is respected in the featurette “Jack Ryan: The Smartest Man in the Room,” which recaps what led into making this film. Another featurette focuses on Branagh and a third details the making of the stunts.

Branagh and producer Lorenza di Bonaventura team for a commentary that focuses more on production aspects than storytelling, and they also provide optional commentary for several deleted scenes and an alternate ending.

But the best extra is the 20-minute “Old Enemies Return” featurette, which contrasts Russia’s current geo-political position with that of the Soviet Union’s Cold War stature. This extra makes the Blu-ray a rather timely one, given Russia’s recent conflict with Ukraine.

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