December 4, 2022
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Review: Stylish spy adventure barely sneaks past tired plot

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

With a market saturated by Bournes and Bonds, an original action experience is a welcome addition. Unfortunately for audiences, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” fails to provide a fresh dose of adrenaline. The flick fades into the abyss of typical action movies, stumbling over its unremarkable script. A solid design philosophy paired with select moments of intensity add life to the film but fail to push it into the realm of excellence.

The film follows marine Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), who, after an injury in combat, finds himself rendered unable to walk and disqualified from his duties in the combat zone. As he struggles through physical therapy, he is approached by CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) and offered a position in a covert anti-terror unit, designated to keep tabs on the financial behaviors of possible terrorists. But soon, Ryan’s position throws him into a whirlwind of danger, leaving his fiancee (Keira Knightley) and himself in the crosshairs of Russian villain Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh). What ensues is a flurry of gunshots, car chases and Russian accents.

“Shadow Recruit’s” greatest downfall is its unfortunate resemblance to titles like “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall.” Director Branagh has mimicked all the typicalities of these titles, providing car chases, insidious villains and beautiful women. However, the film fails to execute any of these aspects with the quality of such similar titles, clumsily attempting to develop Ryan’s love life, all while juggling an intricate web of lies and deceit. Some scenes do succeed in fleshing out a rewarding storyline, notably a comedic couple’s quarrel that adds a genuine moment of humor to the movie. However, these are few and far between, and the overall product struggles with its direction.

Where this action jaunt does succeed is its high-octane moments. The movie’s action is slick, intricate and oozing with style. Viewers will take chunks out of their seats as Ryan dispatches baddie after baddie, including a brutal bathroom battle that will make you rethink the porcelain palace. Covert CIA operations bring the suspense, and the orchestration of Ryan and his fellow agents feels effortlessly cool as they slyly sneak, steal and sleuth their way through Moscow’s highly secured corporate underbelly.

This stylistic finesse is the principal saving grace for “Shadow Recruit:” As shiny sport cars pull up to strikingly designed corporate headquarters, viewers can’t help but bask in its cool factor. Particularly the villainous penthouse of Cheverin, with its towering ceilings and elegantly minimalist looks, is not only wondrous eye-candy, but also convinces viewers that the film’s main antagonist is truly an international force to be reckoned with.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is a tragic case of lopsidedness. The sloppy narrative mars the satisfying bouts of combat, hindering what could have been a handsome and refreshing dive into the sea of action flicks. Unfortunately its good looks can’t save it, and the film finds itself just a few steps from standing out, sadly destined to take a seat below the genre’s more quality offerings.

Steven Pirani can be reached at or via Twitter: @stevenpirani