Director: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali
There is something romantic about the Space Race. The sheer ambition of it. Literally shooting for the moon. Particularly today when politics seems so petty the aspirational nature of it is appealing. Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures tells the true story of three unsung heroes working behind the scenes at NASA, using this moment of heroic scientific progress to reveal equally heroic social progress.
It is 1961, and in Langley, Virginia, NASA’s engineers are deep into planning the Mercury mission that will see John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth. But these are still analogue times. The ‘computers’ that the engineers use to do their calculations are people, predominantly women, seen effectively as mathematical clerical workers. Among these computers are Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). While the work they do is critical to the success of the Mercury mission, they still live in a segregated world Continue reading
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