Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay: Adam Cozad and David Koepp (based on characters created by Tom Clancy)
Stars: Chris Pine (Jack Ryan), Keira Knightley (Cathy Muller), Kevin Costner (Thomas Harper), Kenneth Branagh (Viktor Cherevin), Lenn Kudrjawizki (Constantin), Alec Utgoff (Aleksandr Borovsky), Peter Andersson (Dimitri Lemkov), Elena Velikanova (Katya), Nonso Anozie (Embee Deng), Seth Ayott (Teddy Hefferman), Colm Feore (Rob Behringer), Gemma Chan (Amy Chang), Aleksandar Aleksiev (Cherevin’s Bodyguard)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2014
Country: U.S. / Russia
Jack Ryan 4K Box Set
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

As an attempt to reboot the Jack Ryan movie franchise, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was a dismal failure. The series had produced three films in the 1990s—The Hunt for Red October (1990), Patriot Games (1992), and Clear and Present Danger (1994)—and one earlier attempt at a series reboot in 2002 with The Sum of All Fears, all of which were based on best-selling novels by Tom Clancy. Shadow Recruit was unique as it was based on an original script, rather than derived one of Clancy’s works, and it clearly aimed to create a new, younger, sleeker, faster iteration of the franchise, casting Chris Pine as the determined CIA analyst-turned-man of action. Pine, who was already the center of the rebooted Stark Trek series, makes for a good Ryan, as he conveys both intelligence and a robust physicality that makes his feats of derring-do believable, even when they verge on the ridiculous (when he jumps on a motorcycle late in the game, you can sense the producers’ desire to tap into Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible mojo). And, if Shadow Recruit has a real problem, it is precisely its lack of unique identity. While much of it is good, it often feels overly derivative of other action movie franchises, which is probably why it failed to reignite the series.

Pine was the fourth actor to step into Ryan’s shoes, following Alec Baldwin in Red October, Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears. Like Baldwin and Affleck, Pine is playing a young version of the character, although Shadow Recruit is the first film to begin before Ryan’s tenure with the CIA, depicting him as a graduate student in England whose experience seeing the horrors of 9/11 on television inspire him to join the Marines, where is in involved in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan that literally breaks his back and ends his military career. On the plus side, his physical therapist is a third-year medical student named Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) who later becomes his girlfriend, and he also catches the attention of Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), a CIA official who recruits him to finish his doctorate in economics and then embed himself in a Wall Street firm so he can secretly look for bad guys trying to use the banking system to fund terrorist operations.

Fast forward 10 years, and we find Ryan drawn into a conspiracy involving a Russian oligarch named Victor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) trying to crash the U.S. dollar and plan a massive terror attack in a coordinated effort to destroy the American economy. Ryan is just an analyst with three weeks of training on “The Farm,” but he quickly demonstrates that his brawn matches his brains when he has to take out a would-be assassin in a posh Moscow hotel room. To the film’s credit, the fight is memorably down and dirty, and Ryan’s desperate act of survival that results in the assassin’s death is brutal and leaves him clearly shaken. He doesn’t stay shaken for long, though, and Shadow Recruit might have been a more interesting film if it had played more on Ryan’s inexperience in the field, instead of quickly allowing him to become a routine action hero, rushing into danger to save the day in grandiose style. Along the way we get some good suspense sequences, including a drawn-out affair in which Ryan must leave Cathy, who has surprised him in Moscow, unaware that he works for the CIA, at dinner with Cherevin while he attempts to break into the Russian’s office and hack his computer.

Branagh, who directed the film in addition to playing the heavy, keeps the story lively and engaging, and when the film isn’t engaging in conventional action thrills, it has a meaty, at times Hitchcockian sense of tension that really works. Some of the best moments involve Ryan trying to hide his true nature from Cathy while also navigating the uncharted waters into which he has been so unceremoniously thrown, and in those moments we can see the possibility of a different, probably better, movie that is more about Ryan’s troubled emergence, rather than his easy slide into action heroics. That would be a less conventional movie, to be sure, and despite Branagh’s rise into the world of film via daring Shakespeare adaptations like Henry V (1989) and Hamlet (1996), his more recent work has taken on a rather familiar sheen that works with the material, but fails to elevate it in any truly interesting way.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit 4K UHD + Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French (Canada) Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Russian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Subtitles English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Norwegian, Russian, Slovak, Swedish
    SupplementsThe Hunt for Red October
  • Audio commentary by director John McTiernan
  • “Beneath the Surface” featurette
  • Trailer
  • Patriot Games
  • Patriot Games: Up Close” featurette
  • Trailer
  • Clear and Present Danger
  • Clear and Present Danger: Behind the Danger” featurette
  • Trailer
  • The Sum of All Fears
  • Audio commentary by director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley
  • Audio commentary by director Phil Alden Robinson and novelist Tom Clancy
  • “The Making of The Sum of All Fears” featurette
  • “Creating Reality: The Visual Effects of The Sum of All Fears
  • Trailer
  • Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
  • Audio commentary by director Kenneth Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura
  • “Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room” featurette
  • “Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit” featurette
  • “Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action” featurette
  • “Old Enemies Return” featurette
  • Deleted and extended scenes
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    SRP$69.99 (box set)
    Release DateAugust 21, 2018

    All five films in the “Jack Ryan: 5-Film Collection” are presented in impressive new 4K UHD transfers that offer demonstrably stronger image quality than the previously available Blu-rays (which, I should mention, still look pretty good). The first four films in the series (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears) were scanned in 4K Dolby Vision (with 12-bit color) from the original camera negatives and given a new color pass that was supervised and approved by each film’s respective director (except for Red October, which was supervised by cinematographer Jan De Bont). Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a direct digital port of the original HDR files. The images are sharper, clearer, and boast significantly better detail and stronger color, which is particularly evident in the older films. The new presentations really allow us to appreciate the development of the series’ visuals over time, from the definitive McTiernan style in The Hunt for Red October, which is heavy on shallow focus and lens flares, to Branagh’s sleek, metallic-hued Shadow Recruit. To Paramount’s credit, they don’t try to do anything unnecessary with the older films, allowing their celluloid origins to remain pleasingly noticeable. The first four films feature robust, lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel surround soundtracks, while Shadow Recruit boasts a 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio mix. The underwater sonics of Red October are impressively mounted in the surround channels, while the various explosions that occur in all the films have an appropriately thundering quality. Shadow Recruit, being the newest of the five films and the only one presented in 7.1, has the most active and densest soundtrack, although I was duly impressed with the immersive qualities of the speedboat chase in Patriot Games and the climactic battle in Clear and Present Danger, not to mention Harrison Ford and Donald Moffat’s subsequent war of words in the Oval Office.

    All of the supplements have been recycled from the previous DVD and Blu-ray editions. On The Hunt for Red October, we have an audio commentary by director John McTiernan, a trailer, and the 30-minute retrospective featurette “Beneath the Surface,” which includes circa-2003 interviews with McTiernan, producer Mace Nuefeld, screenwriter Larry Ferguson, and actors Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, and Sean Connery (whose interview was recorded on-set during production). There is no commentary on Patriot Games, but it does include a trailer and the half-hour retrospective featurette “Patriot Games: A Closer Look,” which includes interviews with director Phillip Noyce, producer Mace Neufeld, screenwriter W. Peter Iliff, and stars Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, and James Earl Jones. Similarly, Clear and Present includes only a trailer and the retrospective featurette “Clear and Present Danger: Behind the Danger,” which runs close to half an hour and includes interviews with most of the same personnel that appeared in the Patriot Games featurette. The Sum of All Fears has a much heavier set of supplements, beginning with not one, but two audio commentaries, the first by director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley and the second by Robinson and novelist Tom Clancy, which makes this the only commentary on a Jack Ryan film to feature the character’s creator talking about the film. There are also two half-hour featurettes—“The Making of The Sum of All Fears” and “Creating Reality: The Visual Effects of The Sum of All Fears—and a trailer. Similarly, there is quite a bit more supplementary material on the Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit disc, starting with an informative audio commentary by director Kenneth Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. We also get a quartet of featurettes: “Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room” is a 14-minute look at how the character was reinvented for the new film that includes interviews with Branagh, actors Chris Pine and Kiera Knightley, and producer Mace Neufeld, among others; “Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit is a 10-minute love letter to Branagh as actor and director; “Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action” is a 5-minute look at some of the film’s major action sequences; and “Old Enemies Return” is a surprisingly robust 21-minute look at the historical use of Russians as enemies in Hollywood films that includes interviews with several political scientists and historians. Finally, there are 5 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, including an alternate ending, all of which can be played with optional commentary by Branagh and di Bonaventura.

    Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

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