Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh
Plot: Jack Ryan (Pine) comes up with a theory that hectic Russian spending suggests an imminent attack, but he isn’t expecting his claim to get him thrown into the field, trying to thwart an evil mastermind’s plot to bring about the second Great Depression.
In a month full of heavy OSCAR films, hitting the three hour mark each time, there was something very relaxing about Jack Ryan. There are no major twists, no unpredictable developments; it is just a simple action movie that helps you switch off for a few hours. And we haven’t had enough of them in a long time.
It helps that Jack Ryan is such an easy guy to like. The character is hardly original and Chris Pine’s performance doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. But it works. I have been waiting a long time to see an action movie centre around a man who isn’t at the top of his physical peak, who hasn’t been trained to fight. The problem with superhero movies is that the main character was never going to lose the fight. Here, when an assassin surprises Jack Ryan in his hotel room, you totally believe that Jack Ryan is fighting for his life. James Bond goes through the motions; Jack Ryan is totally out of his element. Chris Pine shows that with small facial gestures of surprise, during a stealth mission. When he is in a car chase, he is acting totally unprofessional, caught in the action of the moment. He is a much easier protagonist to relate to and it was one of the more relatable beats of the entire film.
Kenneth Branagh is a terrific director. He jumps from genre to genre, so you are never sure how he will handle the material. One moment he is taking on a Shakespeare classic, the next he is handling a larger than life superhero flick. Branagh can successfully add thriller to his list of talents. He has a way of always keeping the tension dialled right up to the max. He always make sure you are aware of the ticking clock in the background. He jumps from a casual dinner party, dripping with underlying tension, to Jack Ryan quickly hacking into a computer, moments from triggering an album that will send dozens of security guards to his location. Car chases are also one of Branagh’s new talents. There is one shot where Jack Ryan attacks a car with a hammer that sends jolts of excitement shuddering down your entire body. It is everything I want from an action and fans of CIA thrillers will not be disappointed. Branagh also handles exposition very well. Jack Ryan’s talents lie in analysis and mathematics, a tricky concept for the audience to wrap their minds around. However, a sharp script and good direction means that even when the audience has no idea what is going on, it doesn’t matter, because the excitement is still there and we are still caught in the moment. One criticism is that I think Branagh uses too many close-ups in his fist-fights. Thankfully, the problem doesn’t arise much, but the final punch-up could have been a more bit exciting to watch if story-boarded a little better.
Everyone is on form acting-wise. Kevin Costner does what he says on the tin: a dependable American patriot, who you want on your side. Keira Knightley (boasting a much better American accent than I expected) could have struggled with the role of ‘girlfriend’ and ‘damsel in distress’, but she handles the material incredibly well. She takes a tired sub-plot and it feels a bit fresher than it has done with similar thrillers of the same vein. The show is stolen by Kenneth Branagh – again. His villain is terrific, with a soft Russian whisper for a voice and a deadly presence whenever he is on the screen. If Branagh box-sets ever go on sale, this has to be one of the main features. This movie is as good as it is, because Branagh’s acting and direction takes it from good to great.
Final Verdict: It is a shame that Branagh isn’t likely to make an action thriller again, because he really hits the nail on the head here.