Based off of the Tom Clancy CIA analyst formerly played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck, Jack Ryan has always been the everyman secret agent. While yes, Jack Ryan was in the Marines and knows how to fight, he's kind of like the Jimmy Stewart James Bond. He's how you and I would be in these situations. In essence, he's a boy scout with a moral compass, and for me that's why I've always loved Jack Ryan. In this film, we see Star Trek's Captain Kirk, Chris Pine, as Jack Ryan, and he is probably the second best Jack Ryan ever, behind only Harrison Ford himself.
In Shadow Recruit, we see the origins of Jack Ryan, how he came to be in the CIA, meet his future wife, and so forth. When Jack uncovers a plot orchestrated by Russian businessman, Viktor Cherevin (played with delight by director Kenneth Branagh), Jack must go to Russia to investigate. What ensues is a Hitchcockian game of cat-and-mouse that is as suspenseful as anything in the previous films involving Jack Ryan.
While in my opinion nothing can really touch director Phillip Noyce's Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, Shadow Recruit manages to come close. With Shadow Recruit being the first Jack Ryan film not based entirely on a Tom Clancy novel, there was some trepidation on my behalf, but while the mission that Jack is going on in this film did not have its roots in Clancy, everything that the character goes through does. What the filmmakers did with this film was they took everything that was just backstory in the Tom Clancy novels, such as the helicopter crash that ended Jack's career with the Marines, and they actually show it and make these origin elements integral parts of the story. It's this attention to detail that makes this film worthwhile as a fan of the series. However, what really distinguishes this film from many other spy films, and it's what's always distinguished the Jack Ryan films in general, is that there is a heart to not only the character, but to the stories as well.
In most Jack Ryan adventures, his family plays an important role in dictating his actions and painting him as a man we can relate to, Shadow Recruit is no different. The heart of this film is Jack's relationship with his future wife, Cathy, who has to deal with the ramifications when she learns that Jack is in the CIA. It's all really good stuff that plays to the heart of who the character is, and it affects your heart as well and makes you care for these characters.
While Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may not be as over-the-top or implausible as other spy films, it's probably the most realistic spy film made in a few years, and for that nice change of pace, I think anyone should check this film out and give it a chance.
I give Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit an A-!
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