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 Tiberius Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek franchise to bring youth and sexy vigour to one of science fiction's grand old men. It appears Paramount didn't even venture outside their 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. While the movie was a modest box office success, well, let's just say the Affleck iteration didn't take.
Scripted by Adam Cozad and David Koepp and 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, a la Clancy, his helicopter is shot down over Afghanistan.
During his rehab, he not only meets his future wife Cathy (Keira Knightley), he is recruited by CIA handler Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) with a new mission in Ryan's economics bailiwick: Go to work on Wall Street and seek out big-money transactions that might be linked to terrorist organizations. (Presumably, he isn't given the broader task of detecting criminal activity, which would be like being parachuted into Nebraska to look for corn.)
He uncovers a 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). The plot would only work, Ryan surmises, if it is 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. "You're not just an analyst anymore," Harper tells him as he hands Ryan a gun. "You're operational now."
Adding to Ryan's problems: Cathy shows up at his Moscow hotel with the intention of enjoying an exotic Russian getaway.
A January release for an expensive studio movie is usually a sign of trouble, but Shadow Recruit turns out to be a wholly satisfactory Ryan outing, especially compared to the franchise fumble The Sum of All Fears. The story is a solid espionage tale, handsomely mounted. (Note how Andrew Laws' dark, cold, elegant production design is perfectly synched to Branagh's character in the Moscow scenes.) 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?