Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh
It has been over a decade since Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, the hero of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears and the man who is to financial analysts what Indiana Jones is to archaeologists, last appeared on our screen. So therefore it is time for a reboot and that is exactly what we get in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
As reboots are want to do, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit takes us back to the beginning for an origins story. After being badly injured in a helicopter attack while serving in Afghanistan, Jack Ryan is recruited by the CIA to work covertly as a financial analyst on Wall Street. There he uncovers a Russian plot to crash the US economy with a terrorist attack. So Ryan finds himself upgraded to operational status and on his way to Moscow to try and work out when and where this attack is going to occur before it’s too late.
Clancy wrote Jack Ryan as a Cold War hero, but Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – the first Ryan film not to be directly based on a Clancy novel – recreates him as a hero for the post-9/11 world. It is the attacks on the World Trade Center which compels the young Ryan to abandon his PhD study in London and join the Marines. While in keeping with Clancy’s novels the antagonists in the film are from Russia, it prefers to play off contemporary fears of terrorism and economic meltdown rather than old Cold War tensions.
Having previously been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, it is Chris Pine’s turn to step into the role. However, despite this being the fifth Ryan film, audiences don’t have the same clear expectations of the character as they do for someone like a James Bond, so the pressure on Pine stepping into the role is not as intense. That said, he does a good job. Unlike his brash, impulsive Captain Kirk, Pine imbues his intellectually brilliant Ryan with a certain vulnerability that is fitting of an agent at the beginning of his career who is not yet battle-hardened.
Pine is surrounded by an impressive supporting cast. Kevin Costner continues his recent career resurgence as a quality supporting actor in his role as the stoic William Harper, the CIA agent who recruits Ryan. As Ryan’s girlfriend, Keira Knightley gets slightly more to work with than the usual love interest character, with some of the scenes between the two of them being quite touching. Kenneth Branagh, who is also directing here, makes for a steely villain as the Russian Viktor Cherevin.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit largely follows the spy thriller playbook established by the James Bond and, more recently, Jason Bourne franchises. In this globetrotting film we move between London, New York and Moscow, and are given regular action sequences, whether helicopter attacks, hand-to-hand combat or car chases. However, the quick cutting shaky-cam used in the action scenes does take audience disorientation to a new level.
While Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a contemporary reboot engaging with contemporary concerns there is something wonderfully old-fashioned about it. It is a classic espionage film. It is still Americans against Russians, it still comes down a race against a ticking time bomb, and it is still quite a lot of fun.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Alex Denisof, Amy Acker, Jillian Morgese, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamong, Nathan Fillion
From comic books to Elizabethan comedy. From Marvel to Shakespeare. It’s quite a jump. Not since 1992, when Steven Spielberg immediately followed Jurassic Park with Schindler’s List has a director made two more disparate films back to back. But this is exactly what Joss Whedon has done in deciding to follow up the incredible blockbuster success of The Avengers with a small, independent, black and white adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, Much Ado About Nothing.
In fact, Much Ado About Nothing couldn’t be futher from The Avengers if it tried. Gone is the enormous sense of scale, the digital effects, the 3D, the cast of superstars and the budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead, this film was shot at Whedon’s house in 12 days using a cast compiled mainly of regulars from his television days. A long held passion project, Whedon adapted the screenplay, produced, directed, edited, and wrote the music himself. Yet while it is on completely the opposite end of the scale to The Avengers, it is every bit as effective.
Americans don’t have a great track record when it comes to Shakespeare (Al Pacino actually made a very interesting film, Looking for Richard, which sought to determine what it was that caused Americans to struggle so much with the Bard), but this confident, sleek and sexy film will surely find itself resting near the top of the pile. Whedon opts for a contemporary reimagining of this famous story of two pairs of lovers, one brought together by the sport of their friends, the other almost torn apart by a more devious form of trickery. So Italian governors with guards become American politicians with security details, and the Italian villa becomes a Californian mansion.
Much Ado About Nothing is beautifully shot in black and white by cinematographer Jay Hunter, with an aesthetic that feels very akin to Indie movies of the 1990s. But despite its very stylish appearance, this film plays up the bawdiness of Shakespearean comedy to perfection. The dialogue in this farce, packed with double entendre, is delivered with a cheeky wink and a nudge, and there is more than a sprinkling of slapstick humour.
Rather than putting on fake British accents the actors retain their American twangs and it actually works. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker bounce off each other brilliantly as Benedick and Beatrice, finding the right balance between admiration and distain that is required for this love-hate relationship between two people with sharp minds and tongues. Clark Gregg sits comfortably as a much younger Leonato than you usually get. But the films real scene stealer is Nathan Fillion, who is a scream as the bumbling detective Dogberry.
It has been 20 years since Kenneth Branagh’s all-star adaptation of this play hit the screen and Whedon succeeds in doing something different enough that the play gets a new burst of life. The material feels so fresh. It is a sharp, vibrant and very funny film that demonstrates Whedon’s versatility as a filmmaker.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean