Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Viktor Cherevin: You Americans like to think you are direct. Perhaps you're just rude.
Jack Ryan: You Russians like to think you are poetic. Perhaps you're just touchy.
The character of Jack Ryan was created by novelist Tom Clancy, to give us a smart action hero of the late 20th century, a decorated combat veteran and elite black-ops soldier and intelligent geopoliticist who's the kind of invincible hero we all like to believe is actively protecting us, out there in the shadowy world of CIA, spy stratagems, and covert missions. But the character needed some updating, and to be thrust into the 21st century, so here is the "back story" that propels Jack Ryan to the present and sets him up for sequels.
It's 2001. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is studying at the London School of Economics, and sees, on the television screen in the student lobby, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center . It changes his life. He decides he needs to enlist in the Marines, and right now.
Next thing we know, he's in a helicopter mission over Afghanistan in 2003. The helicopter takes a hit from a surface-to-air missile, and Jack Ryan has suddenly crash-landed, and has to be medically evacuated to a rehab hospital. He barely makes it out alive. And now his most important mission is learning to walk again,
But his work has not gone unnoticed. Kevin Costner plays Thomas Harper, the CIA operative who has not only noticed Jack's reports from the field suggesting new strategies, he's also done his research, and knows Jack almost finished his dissertation before he suddenly enlisted. So he advises Jack to finish his rehab, go back and finish and his doctorate in economics, and then go to work for his country: this time in a far different role. One that he would keep hidden from everyone else. He would head to a big Wall Street investment firm, and while there he would monitor foreign investment activity for suspicion of covert terrorist operations. After all, it wasn't just about blowing up things. Every terrorist cell, needs money, and a way to funnel it surreptitiously.
Meanwhile, Jack Ryan (who of course is also young, strong, and extraordinarily handsome), winds up with Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), the attractive English doctor who was in charge of his rehab, and has brought her to New York, where she is now working in an American hospital. She's unaware of his "extracurricular" spy activities, but she is beginning to grow suspicious of his unexplained absences: she fears he is having an affair.
It's interesting that in 2014, the bad guys are the Russians again. As if the Cold War never really ended, and they're the ones we have to fear, because they are not only well-funded and focused, they are motivated by hurt pride, wanting to restore the former glory of Mother Russia. Kenneth Branagh plays with cool detachment the Russian mogul who is indeed masterminding a dastardly plot: cripple the U.S. with a one-two punch: a staggering terrorist attack, in New York city , as a grand diversion, followed closely by a massive sell-off on the stock exchange, sending the market suddenly into a plunging free-fall.
It's a clever plot; one that will involve every ounce of resistance and counter-intelligence that Jack Ryan can muster, along with all the American CIA operatives in Moscow , who aren't officially there, of course. Even his beautiful fiancée is unwittingly thrown into the vortex of this chaotic gambit.
As the clock winds down and the action ratchets up, the viewer is carried along by the rapidly-evolving scenario, as Jack Ryan and his well-trained cohorts try desperately to foil the impending disaster. Sure, parts of it are unlikely, but it's still enjoyable to watch.
And yes, at the end, Jack Ryan is introduced to POTUS, as a foreshadowing of his own inroads into the exalted corridors of Americana . Yes, this one is designed to fan the glowing embers of patriotic fervor, as we root for the good guys to protect the interests of the good ol' U.S. of A.
Is it realistic? Um, perhaps in part.
Is it a tale well-conceived and well-told? Definitely.
Is it fun? You bet.
Bring on the sequels.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas