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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ••1/2

Jack_Ryan_Shadow_Recruit_posterStarring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay: Adam Cozad, David Koepp
Action/Mystery/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: January 17, 2014
Jack Ryan: Single, P-PP Moral, Pro (Classic Lone Hero)
Cherevin: Single, N-N Moral, Ant (Face [of Russia] Villain)


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Scott, it’s time for a look at the latest Jack Ryan movie.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Indeed. Amazing that Captain Kirk has time to work for the CIA.

Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is a boy-scout-looking young man who graduated from college with a degree in finance and joined the Marines about the time of the 2011 World Trade Center bombings. He is working on his PhD while serving in Afghanistan when his helicopter is shot out of the sky by a Rocket Propelled Grenade. While in the hospital recovering from a crushed vertebrae, he meets Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), a young medical student who takes a liking to Jack. Enter a shadowy figure (Thomas Harper played by Kevin Costner) who comes knocking and entices Jack to join the CIA as a financial analyst to try and prevent a future 9/11.

Ryan agrees to serve as a CIA agent while working as a financial analyst on Wall Street. He soon discovers that Russia has firewalled away large piles of cash and he suspects the Russians of propping up the dollar and engineering an American economic collapse from which Russia will benefit. The only way Ryan can find out for sure is to travel to Moscow to meet with the Russians. An attempt is made on Ryan’s life as soon as he arrives and, even worse, his fiancee Cathy (who doesn’t know of his CIA status) surprises him by showing up at his Russian hotel room.

Scott, this is the first Jack Ryan movie since Tom Clancy died. The others (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, & The Sum of All Fears) were set during the cold war era. This new incarnation attempts to bring Jack Ryan up-to-date and place him in the current terrorist era. However, the attempts to make financial analysis look as sexy as submarine warfare fall flat. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is dull and plodding as it tries to make an attack on the USA’s financial infrastructure seem scary. It doesn’t and Jack Ryan suffers for the attempt.

Greg, I enjoyed this movie on its own terms. What does that mean? Well, for me it was a summer popcorn movie intended to allow the audience a chance to turn its brain off for two hours while people are chasing and shooting at each other. Kevin Costner does a nice job serving as a mentor to Ryan, and Chris Pine is well-cast as a young hot-shot financial guru who displays amazing brains as well as brawn. If this movie does one thing well, it sets up the origin stories of both the hero, Ryan, and the villain, Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). Both are fairly effective in these roles.

Right on all accounts, Scott. I’m mystified as to how the writers could have missed with such a great cast and a proven hero in Jack Ryan. Ryan hits all the marks of a great hero. He’s loyal to his country. He is honest and trustworthy. He’s athletic despite his injuries. Harper is a great mentor, arriving at the right time to lay down the Call to Adventure. The wife, Cathy, is smart and eventually is in need of being saved. Great Damsel in Distress material and sidekick as well. The villain leaves a bit to be desired, but is played well by Branagh.

Still, the plot is lacking. It’s hard to get my head around the concept that all this money-business is world-threatening. It’s easier when you can see a bomb that is ticking down to destruction. THEN you have a sense of impending doom. And, in fact, this is how the plot resolves itself. But selling off bonds on the New York Stock Exchange isn’t heady business. To make that sexy, you’d have to take a look at what Martin Scorsese did with The Wolf of Wall Street.

This movie shows us glimpses of what differentiates a hero from a villain, Greg. Ryan and Cherevin are both scarred by their war experiences in Afghanistan. Ryan was a gung-ho volunteer whose near-death experience rendered him timid and a bit shell-shocked. Cherevin’s injuries kindled a deep bitterness toward America, whom he believed supplied the weaponry that wounded him and his countrymen. Ryan wants no part of further violence whereas Cherevin seeks it. Ryan overcomes his weaknesses en route toward becoming heroic, whereas Cherevin’s weaknesses — vodka and women — end up being his undoing.

That’s an interesting comparison. It seems that there really aren’t many differences between villains and heroes. But is it just a matter of point of view? From the point of view of the Russians, Cherevin is a hero – about to take down their greatest foe. If he is successful, he will be praised as a great Russian.

From our perspective as an American audience, Ryan appears to be the hero. He’s protecting us against an aggressor. Could that be the difference between a hero and a villain, then? The hero is protecting against a villain who is poised to attack without cause. We see that too, in Lone Survivor where our American Navy Seals are out to kill an Afghan Taliban leader who is responsible for several Marine deaths. The Seals are heroes because they are reacting to a tangible threat. Were the roles reversed, it might be harder to perceive the Seals (or Ryan) as the hero.

There’s no doubt that heroism and villainy are in the eye of the beholder, Greg. We’ve heard it said that one man’s hero is another man’s terrorist, and that the winners, not the vanquished, get to write the history books and establish who the heroes and villains are. I also agree with you that heroes take the moral high road, and certainly protecting against an aggressor is more heroic than being the aggressor. But aggression is also in the eye of the beholder, as the aggressor usually justifies the aggression by arguing that it is in self-defense.

These are all slippery slopes and make distinguishing heroes from villains a tricky business. For me, then, the best way to separate heroes from villains is to ask: Who makes the selfless choice? Who is the most non-violent? Who is caring, kind, and willing to make self-sacrifices to save others? In this movie, Jack Ryan is that individual. And the man who embodies the opposite qualities is Viktor Cherevin.

I was disappointed in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It was slow and lackluster and ultimately relied on old-school danger / action plots to resolve the ending. It is possible to make high-finance look interesting and this movie failed in that regard. I look to such films as Moneyball and to a certain degree The Fifth Estate to turn such thought-based plots into an exciting event. I give Jack Ryan just 2 out of 5 Reels.

Cherevin as the villain is given a lot of backstory here and I appreciated that. So often villain characters are painted as pure evil with no reason behind it. But his hatred for the United States is based on his experiences in the Afghanistan war with Russia. He’s also given some personal vices that not only color his personality, but also become his ultimate demise. However, we don’t see much of his core intelligence in the film. It isn’t clear that he’s a compelling rival for Ryan. I give Cherevin just 3 Villains out of 5.

Jake Ryan does pretty well as a hero in my estimation. He hits all the important elements of a classic hero. When you rate him on your list of the Great Eight characteristics of a hero, he comes out on top. But when you look at his flaws, there are few to be found. He doesn’t appear to have a missing inner quality or great pain to correct. In that sense he really doesn’t develop much in this film. I give Jack Ryan 3 out of 5 Heroes.

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I enjoyed this movie a bit more than you did, Greg. It’s certainly no classic and won’t win any awards, but for two hours it offered a nice escape from reality. I had a fun ride and have no problem giving this film 3 Reels out of 5. Jack Ryan was a good hero for a number of reasons: We are given a nice backstory that permits us to see Ryan evolve from a quiet financial analyst to a brave, resourceful, and physically gifted CIA operant. His hero journey features an effective mentor, a few key allies, an appealing love interest, and a ruthless villain. I give Ryan 4 Heroes out of 5.

The villain Cherevin is also fairly effective for many of the same reasons:  A backstory, a love interest (who happens to also be Ryan’s love interest), a henchman or two, and a stereotypical higher-up who of course is even more ruthless than Cherevin. And therein lies the problem. Because the story, understandably, focuses more on the hero Ryan than on the villains, we are left with cardboard villains who fill typical Russian stereotypes, right down to the vodka addiction and cold war rhetoric. So like you, Greg, the best I can do is award 3 Villains out of 5.

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