In an update of Tom Clancy's classic character, ex-Marine and Moscow-based financial analyst Jack Ryan uncovers a plot by his employer to finance a terrorist attack designed to collapse the U.S. economy. Ryan must race against time to save America and his wife.
I've been a long-time fan of Tom Clancy's 'Jack Ryan' pictures. As a teenager, they were movies that my family and I would watch again and again. Prior to 'Shadow Recruit' featuring the character's name in the title of movie, Jack Ryan wasn't a household name. Many people know the movies that feature his character - 'The Hunt for Red October,' 'Patriot Games,' 'Clear and Present Danger' and 'The Sum of All Fears' (all of which can be found in the 'Jack Ryan Collection' Blu-ray set) - but don't know the character by name. When 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recuit' hit theaters, I'd hoped that would change. Unfortunately, although completely deserving, it didn't perform so well at the domestic box office. My only hope now is that the picture will thrive on Blu-ray.
Alec Baldwin was the first actor to play the analyst-turned-field agent in 'The Hunt for Red October.' Harrison Ford took over for 'Patriot Games' and 'Clear and Present Danger.' And Ben Affleck played him last in 'The Sum of All Fears.' Now, Chris Pine is taking over the role - as if earning the reboot role of the iconic captain James T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams' 'Star Trek' wasn't enough. My initial worry about Pine was that he would play Jack Ryan exactly as he has been playing Captain Kirk - cocky, arrogant, overly confident - but I couldn't be more pleased with his restrained role in 'Shadow Recruit.' He does great justice to Clancy's patriotic, honest and heroic character.
Clancy wasn't very pleased with the way his novels and character were adapted in the older pictures. It's rumored that he wanted nothing to do with 'Patriot Games.' And he was openly vocal about his extreme dissatisfaction with 'The Sum of All Fears.' Although Clancy never got to see 'Shadow Recruit' prior to his death, I personally believe that if he wasn't happy with the outcome that he would have, at least, disliked it as much as 'Patriot Games,' which is a fantastic film. 'Shadow Recruit' does something with the character that hasn't been done yet. Not based on a previously existing Jack Ryan book, 'Shadow Recruit' features a completely original story that gives the character an origin, a backstory and a motivation.
'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' kicks off with a series of episodic scenes that establish a foundation for the character: he's an English-educated American who joined the military after 9/11. After his patriotic service in the Middle East, we see how he and his wife-to-be Cathy (Keira Knightley) first met. While there's a great terrorist plot for Ryan to foil at the center of 'Shadow Recruit,' a solid chunk of the movie is spent defining Jack as the great man he is, a lot of which is accomplished by showing his relationship with Cathy. The novels and first four movies established that Jack and Cathy are a devoted and perfect couple; 'Shadow Recruit' gives us strong examples of how and why that came to be.
The terrorist plot at the center of the movie isn't even close to matching the complexity of the other films in the series - but that doesn't mean it's not entertaining or worthwhile. As with any origins tale, the purpose of 'Shadow Recruit' is to build the characters, which it successfully does while placing them in some wildly intense situations.
Kevin Costner plays the CIA agent who recognizes Jack as the stalwart defender of truth that he is and recruits him to the Agency to work as a financial auditor for a major global banking establishment in New York City. Jack's first secret mission is to embed himself in the bank, analyze accounts, and look for trends that could signal a potential terrorist group or attack in the making. Being a superb analyst, Jack notices a red flag that, when pointed out to his superiors, sends him to Russia to investigate a dangerous and shady high-profile investment tycoon (director Kenneth Branagh) - and that's when the fun really begins. Branagh brings an intensity to his villainous character, the likes of which we haven't seen in a 'Jack Ryan' film yet.
One of the especially fun aspects of the Ryan's character is that he isn't your standard field agent. Of course, he finds himself in positions of action, fighting, and shooting, but his weakness makes him real, a genuine character that we, as audience members, can connect with. He's a fish out water and there's some hostile evil at work outside the tank. The amount of stylized action that Jack finds himself in in 'Shadow Recruit' is definitely higher than that of the previous pictures, but it's not gratuitous or distracting. As much fun as the action scenes are, the tense ones are even better. There are two fantastic nerve-wracking moments that left my heart thumping for several minutes. I'll refrain from spoiling either of them, but they show how great Branagh can be at playing a bad guy.
I couldn't be any more pleased with 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.' Despite having now gone through four actors, the Jack Ryan character is still the same. Watching him do his thing is just as much fun as it has ever been. 'Shadow Recruit' is worthy of more success than it received. I recommend it to absolutely anyone. Fans of the books and old films or not, you won't be disappointed. Anyone can enjoy it. And I urge to check it out sooner than later because the better it performs on Blu-ray, the sooner we'll get a sequel. I don't think that I can handle waiting another decade for more Jack Ryan.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount has given 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' a combo pack release that includes the film on a BD-50 and DVD, as well as a code for the redemption for either an Ultraviolet or iTunes digital copy. All is housed within a two-disc Elite keepcase that slides vertically into a slick carboard keepcase with identical cover art. Also included is a coupon code for getting $15 off any Ticketmaster sports tickets (expires Sept. 10, 2014). Upon inserting the disc, you're forced to watch a Paramount vanity reel, followed by skippable trailers that are pulled from the internet. The first time I popped the disc in, it played trailers for 'Noah' and 'Anchorman 2,' the second time it gave me 'The Wolf of Wall Street.'
'Jack Ryan' has been given a brilliant 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer. From the moment the Paramount and Skydance vanity reels start playing, its clarity and impressiveness never let up. The only real flaw to the video isn't in the presentation of the movie itself, but in the way that it was shot. Throughout the picture, if you're paying close attention, you'll notice that focal issues arise every few minutes, causing objects and people to appear slightly hazy or blurred. This even happens with close-ups on faces, one time leaving Costner's nose out of focus while everything else is completely sharp. Fortunately, it isn't constant and it's typically minor. But if it wasn't for that, 'Shadow Recruit' would be perfect demo material.
For lovers of celluloid, there's a nice dusting of grain that's present in every one of the movie's bright, well-lit scenes. The picture is rich with detailed images, including some that reveal the flaws in the facial complexion of all of the movie's good-looking leads – Knightley's complexion isn't as great as you'd think, Pine's smooth acne scarring is more visible than ever, and Costner's wrinkles give you a better idea of his age. Textures and miniscule details are constantly in the forefront.
The film itself is full of comfortable and inviting lighting/color schemes. It's natural and appealing. One quick gorgeous shot tracks with Knightley's face close up, front and center, while she walks down a dark hallway to a room filled with warm sunlight. Despite the darkness, her face is always dimly lit and rich in details. Bands could have arisen, but didn't. Black levels are deep and flawless. And the camera's motion is perfectly fluid. Another fantastic shot features Pine on the roof of his hotel at sunset. The warm sunlight adds extra life to his fleshtone and the blue of his eyes is ablaze. The gray cloudy backdrop is perfect contrast and the tiniest rainbow in the background couldn't have been planned any better.
Considering how fantastic everything else is, it's a bummer that the focus couldn't have been achieved better.
While the video quality has one small issue keeping it from perfection, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track of 'Jack Ryan' is absolutely flawless.
'Shadow Recruit' kicks off with a great calm, yet oddly uneasy, opening scene that defines the character without Pine offering a single word. Set on a London campus, this scene isn't silent, as there's plenty of distant quiet sound, but it effectively shows how powerful the lack of sound can be. But don't, not even for a second, believe that this mix kicks off a quiet trend. Instead, it's the opposite. The next scene, which offers an explosion and chaotic follow-up effects, is wildly loud. The dynamics of a missile blast, fluttering debris, alarms and pain are demo-worthy. And the greatness doesn't stop there. All channels are always active - and that's not an exaggeration.
Like the opening sequence, every mild scene is filled with fantastic environmental subtleties. Rain dynamically falls all around, making channel-based specific sounds as it splashes onto different surfaces. Restaurant's are filled with immersive banter, silverware clanking and rainfall effects from outside whenever someone enters or exists from the background. The news anchor constantly talking on the distant television is so clear that, should you stand near the speaker, you can hear every bit of news she provides through Jack and Cathy's conversation. But once you jump into an action scene, the throttle is opened up and the 7.1 mix cuts loose. If you sense that something intense it about to happen, get ready for deafening and rumbly experience.
When Jack is attacked in his expensive Russian hotel room, you'll hear every shattered piece of porcelain and glass hit the tile and hardwood floor. A suppressed gunshot will ring out from one side of the room and you can follow the imaging sound of the bullet across the room to its point(s) of impact. And the nice part about it is that every intense action scene is identical to the greatness heard in the hotel fight.
'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' features one of the best 7.1 mixes that I've heard in a long time. It's well-rounded, impressive and unforgettably cool. No sound - music, vocals or effects - trumps another and they harmoniously blend to fill your theater with dynamics.
Sorry, standard-def viewers. The only way to get special features is by owning a Blu-ray player and picking up the combo pack. All features are exclusive to the Blu-ray disc.
Hitting shelves just before Father's Day, I don't know a single father that wouldn't love to own this Blu-ray. The movie itself is a worthy entry to Tom Clancy's five-film-deep Jack Ryan franchise, a solid way to kick-start the franchise for new viewers while pleasing the long-time fans. It's surprisingly well balanced with character, emotion, romance, plot, action and tension. There's a little something for everyone. The Blu-ray's video quality is extremely close to perfection. The 7.1 lossless audio mix is completely engaging and relentlessly impressive. A decent amount of small special features are included, but all are exclusive to Blu-ray. As a fan of the 'Jack Ryan' series, I couldn't be more happy with his not-based-on-a-book origins film and easily recommend 'Shadow Recruit' to absolutely anyone who loves a solid spy/political thriller.