Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Kenneth Branagh
Run Time
1 hour and 45 minutes

VP Content Ratings


Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 45 min.

Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity.

 Our Star ratings (1-5): 2.5

The Lord has destroyed without mercy
all the dwellings of Jacob;
in his wrath he has broken down
the strongholds of daughter Judah;
he has brought down to the ground in dishonor
the kingdom and its rulers.

            Lamentations 2:2

Kenneth Branagh proves he is as adept behind the camera as he before it in this rebooting of the Jack Ryan franchise. Except for Harrison Ford fans, I think most lovers of the spy thriller genre will be pleased with this version in which Chris Pine plays Jack. In the prologue Jack’s background as a PhD student at the London School of Economics who is motivated by the terrorist attack of 911 to join the Marines is told with an economy of shots. Aboard a helicopter in Afghanistan he is a lieutenant chatting with two enlisted men when they are hit by a Taliban rocket. He wakes up in a hospital with a beautiful intern Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley, portraying an American) urging him to keep trying when his injured legs give way. As Jack endures the grueling hours of physical therapy, he grows closer to Cathy, and is visited by Navy Cmdr. William Harper (Kevin Costner), who has been observing him at a distance.

Of course Harper has not gone out of his way just to let Jack know that his heroic action when the chopper went down saved the lives of the two men with whom he had been chatting. Revealing that he is with the CIA, he tells Jack that he has read some of his economic papers relating to the Russians and the Afghans and that he wants him to join the CIA. Not happy about such an invitation, Jack says, “People don’t like you guys these days,” going on to mention the controversy over agency tactics like waterboarding. “That’s not my unit,” Harper tersely replies. It doesn’t take much persuading before Jack is working undercover at a Wall Street firm analyzing international investment and monetary transactions.

We also see that he and Cathy have been living together, but because they are not married, he has been forbidden to reveal to her his real work. This leads to a tense situation when she finds a movie ticket stub for an art house theater where he had met an agent for a drop off. She asks to go see the classic film being shown there, and he does not admit to having seen the film, causing her to wonder if he is cheating on her, even though he says he wants to marry her?

Meanwhile, at intervals we see scenes of Kenneth Branagh as Viktor Cherevin, a Russian plutocrat who is head of an elaborate plan to wipe out the U.S. dollar and upend the world economy. Jack and he meet when he spots a series of suspicious transactions on his office computer at his Wall Street firm. Trying to run down information on whereabouts of the funds of a whole series of Russian companies that have partnered with his firm, he convinces both the company boss and Harper at the CIA that he must fly to Moscow to audit the books of their partner Cherevin. So it’s off to Moscow. Cathy is upset because he has refused to allow her to accompany him, and when she suggests that they at least meet in Paris for a weekend, he is hesitant. This fuels her suspicion about his possible affair with another woman. Boy, does she surprise him a little later!

In Moscow there follows a series of high tech events, car chases, fights, and what have you that are as thrilling as any action-spy film you are likely to see. There is more of a warm, human touch to the characters. Cathy, for example, is drawn into the story, deeply into it, but she does not suddenly display martial prowess—she is a doctor, not an Amazon. And Chris Pine’s Jack is not a cold-blooded killer able to get over an enemy’s death by tossing off a funny bon mot like James Bond. We see by his face that when he dispatches the bodyguard who turns out to be a would-be assassin, he is shocked and taken aback by the process of killing him. (And this process proves ironical in that earlier Jack had raised the issue of the CIA’s water boarding!)

It is intriguing that the old Russian Communists who hated and tried to destroy the church are replaced today by those who have some relationship with the church. The Russian Orthodox church in which we see Viktor is a beautiful one, though how much of its beliefs he truly embraces is questionable: his cold blooded killing of an underling who has failed him leaves no doubt that he has rejected the ethics of the Founder of the church. Still, can you imagine one of the old Communist leaders taking the name of the plan to destroy the economy of the United States from the Bible—Lamentations? However, our villain has forgotten that the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah were over the destruction of a nation that had rejected God’s ways, just as has done. Had he thought about this and the fate of evil doers, he might not have chosen this name.

If you are looking for a suspenseful, fast paced thriller, one in which the CIA returns to the side of the good guys, yu won’t go wrong with this one. And possibly also feel uneasy about some of the ethics that such thrillers require the good guys to rely on.

This review plus a set of discussion questions is included in the Feb. issue of Visual Parables, which is available to subscribers (go to The Store for subscription information). The journal also includes an extensive (over 10 pages–180+ films) annotated list of films on racism that could prove helpful for those wanting films for Black History Month.
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