(Paramount Pictures)
“Congrats on being able to fit into your No Way Out uniform.”
(Paramount Pictures)

Thank goodness The Wolf of Wall Street was delayed from its original Nov. 15 release date.  The extra time in the editing room produced a first-rate Scorsese film and pushed Paramount’s original Christmas Day offering, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, to brighten the dumping grounds of mid-January.  That’s not to say the latest Tom Clancy story is anything groundbreaking (none of it predecessors are), but for a time of year when expectations are routinely lowered, Kenneth Branagh’s film refuses to play into these diminished standards.

 (Paramount Pictures)
Bald Tom Hanks mind control is the best mind control.
(Paramount Pictures)

Reborn as a financial doctoral student inspired to enlist in the Marines after 9/11, Ryan’s initial scenes lay on the Model American background a little thick yet effectively establish his commitment to country.  This fourth character iteration finds a good fit in Star Trek’s Chris Pine, no stranger to reboots, whose fresh face captures the confidence of Ryan’s CIA analyst side and the horror of unexpectedly being forced into the field.  In Moscow to audit his Wall Street employer’s top client, Ryan faces such surprise danger with an attempt on his life and through the aid of his handler Harper (Kevin Costner) quickly puts his minimal training at The Farm to work.  Needing to outwit the client’s head honcho Viktor Cherevin (Branagh) and sniff out this adversary’s underlying ploy, Ryan enlists his stunned fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) for a suspenseful game of cat and mouse that rarely lets up.

 (Paramount Pictures)
“If I tickle you, will you laugh like an American?”
(Paramount Pictures)

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit achieves such grand entertainment through multiple intense action sequences and some good hand-to-hand combat, neither of which are up to Bourne levels, but then what is?  Grounding this excitement is a sense that though the story’s consequences are undeniably global, the conflict between this limited number of parties feels small and personal.  A good cast certainly helps.  Knightley is convincing as an American.  Her scenes with Pine never get too schmaltzy and their administration of tough love stings with authenticity.  Their personal discoveries likewise lend themselves to nice little moments, such as Cathy seeing Jack in action for the first time and being quietly impressed.

 (Paramount Pictures)
Still not recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
(Paramount Pictures)

Also strong, Costner follows his scene-stealing Man of Steel turn with another father figure, this time as a guardian angel watching over Jack…with a sniper rifle.  Then there’s Branagh, who never met an accent he didn’t master, striking a formidable evil presence as the Russian baddie.  Fine acting aside, after this and Thor he’s established himself as a reliable action director and someone who could seemingly handle even more ambitious assignments.  With so much going right, the film’s lone major stumble is that its problem-solving, especially at the end, is a touch spelled out, but when the pressure is on there’s little time for subtlety.  Though these epiphanies draw some unwanted attention to themselves, the answers thankfully don’t affect the film’s tension and pace, leaving the door open for future such adventures from these collaborators.

Grade: B+

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9KAnx4EvaE]

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