Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Befitting a spy thriller, one comes to the rebooted Tom Clancy hero Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit with suspicions a-tingle, exacerbated by the casting of Chris Pine as the celebrated CIA analyst.
Pine, 33, was already cast as Capt. James T. Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek franchise to bring youth and sexy vigour to one of science fiction's grand old men. Paramount evidently didn't even venture outside its own studio gates to find a new Ryan.
Another problem: the Ryan character was already rebooted in the 2002 movie The Sum of All Fears with Ben Affleck in the role. Alas, the Affleck iteration didn't take.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Shadow Recruit is the first of the Ryan films not based on a Clancy novel and offers a more holistic reboot. Pine's Ryan is a student at the London School of Economics when the terrorist attacks of 2001 compel him to join the marines and fight for his country. Instead of receiving injuries in Vietnam, his helicopter is shot down over Afghanistan.
During his rehab, he not only meets his future wife Cathy (Keira Knightley), a doctor, he is recruited by CIA handler Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) with a new mission in Ryan's economics area: go to work in Wall Street and seek out big-money transactions that might be linked to terrorist organizations. He uncovers a very serious impending transaction tied to ruthless Russian oligarch Viktor Cherevin (played by director Branagh with a combination of vanity and chilly brutality worthy of Vladimir Putin). It would only work, Ryan surmises, if it was tied to a domestic terrorist attack. So, at Harper's insistence, Ryan is sent to Moscow to investigate further, only to find that the "desk job" of auditing corporate books involves fighting off assassins. Adding to Ryan's problems: Cathy shows up at his Moscow hotel with the intention of enjoying an exotic Russian getaway.
Shadow Recruit is a wholly satisfactory Ryan outing, especially compared with The Sum of All Fears. The story is a solid espionage tale, handsomely mounted. If Pine can't deliver a tone of world-weary gravitas, Costner (one of the original choices to play Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October) compensates in that department. His Thomas Harper is a more fully developed CIA mentor than was seen in any of the previous Jack Ryan films, carrying the full, tragic weight of his CIA past.
In the past, Branagh's expertise was best displayed in his Shakespearean films, but in this contemporary arena, the man pulls off his double duty in style. The scene in which he shares dinner with Knightley's Cathy (pressed into service as Jack's mission mate) is a little gem of seduction with an undercurrent of malice.
And isn't that what spy movies should be all about? 3 1/2
Call this a contemporary version of the Agatha Christie parlour mystery. Except it's not so much a whodunit as a who-is-doing-it?
Instead of the Orient Express, most of the action takes place on a trans-Atlantic jetliner, where designated air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is barely holding it together even before takeoff, taking a few calming slugs of whiskey before boarding a flight to London.
Once aboard, Bill sits next to cute, more-or-less-age-appropriate redhead Jen (Julianne Moore) who attempts to calm him during takeoff. (Yes, this particular air marshal is afraid of flying.)
But before long, Bill has to get down to business when he receives a text from an anonymous terrorist, who demands $150 million or he will start executing a passenger every 20 minutes. After consultation with the plane's captain (Linus Roache), Bill first assumes the threat may be a hoax. But after a couple of deaths, he is forced into action.
After some selected acts of mayhem, however, his fellow passengers aren't so sure that Bill himself isn't the guy hijacking the plane, a suspicion borne out by the fact that the $150-million ransom, it is discovered, would be deposited in an account under Marks' own name.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (who also directed Neeson in the brain-teasing thriller Unknown), Non-Stop is a reasonably compelling thriller in its first two-thirds, as the incriminating evidence piles up and a host of possible perpetrators present themselves, including an edgy flight attendant (Michelle Dockery), a twitchy passenger (Scoot McNairy), a Muslim doctor (Omar Metwally), an ingratiating fellow marshal (Anson Mount), a prickly tech expert (Nate Parker) and an aggressive New York cop (Corey Stoll).
Neeson holds the centre well. The Irish actor may be bemused by his late-in-life breakout as an action star, in fare such as Taken and The Grey. But he is well-suited to the genre, by virtue of his physically imposing presence combined with a soulful, near-tragic demeanour.
But even that will only take you so far. Non-Stop wants to be Die Hard on a plane, but ends up closer to the misbegotten Jodie Foster thriller Flightplan (2005) in which the implausibility factor registers higher than the 40,000-foot altitude.
It doesn't get quite as ludicrous as Flightplan (What, nobody saw the kid!?), but it's close.
Anyway, Neeson mitigates the occasional wind-shear plunges into absurdity. The man's particular set of skills includes the ability to make the most incredible hokum not only credible but palatable. 21/2