“JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” (2014) Review

,JACK-RYAN

“JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” (2014) Review

There have been four previous movies that featured the literary character, Jack Ryan. But those four movies were adaptations of novels written by the late Tom Clancy. Paramount Pictures released a fifth movie featuring the character called “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT”. Unlike the previous four movies, this fifth one is not based upon a Clancy novel.

Directed by Kenneth Branaugh and written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp, “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” is presented as a reboot that chronicles Jack Ryan’s early years as a C.I.A. analyst. I realize that the 2002 movie, “THE SUM OF ALL FEARS” also featured Jack’s early years as an analyst. But Jack was already established with the C.I.A. in that film. “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” also chronicled Jack’s years as a graduate student in Britain, his time as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan and how he ended up being recruited into the C.I.A. The movie also revealed how he had recovered from a deadly helicopter crash and met his future wife, Dr. Cathy Muller. But more importantly, the movie’s basic plot is about Jack uncovered a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack and send the country into another Great Depression.

Once the circumstances leading to Jack’s recruitment into the C.I.A. was conveyed, Cozad and Koepp’s screenplay began with Jack working undercover as a compliance officer at a Wall Street stock brokerage, looking for suspect financial transactions that indicated terrorist activity. After the Russian Federation loses a key vote before the United Nations, Jack discovers that trillions of dollars held by Russian organizations have disappeared. A large number of those funds are controlled by a veteran of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Viktor Cherevin. The latter and a group of Russian politicans are seeking revenge against the Americans for the latter’s intervention in that particular invasion. Since Jack’s Wall Street employer does business with Cherevin and Jack discovers that certain accounts are inaccessible to him as auditor, he has a reason to visit Moscow and investigate. Unfortunately for Jack, he narrowly survives an assassination attempt upon his arrival in Moscow . . . and is forced to send out an S.O.S. to the C.I.A. for help. Even worse, his fiancée Cathy suspects him of having an affair and flies to Moscow to confront him. In the end, Jack and his C.I.A. recruiter William Harper not only have to find a way to stop Cherevin, but also keep Cathy out of danger.

Russians and terrorist attacks. Hmmmm . . . I have noticed that the use of Russian politics as a bogeyman has been very popular in Hollywood political thrillers lately. Is this due to the unpopularity of that country’s current leader, Vladimir Putin? I wonder. Am I putting down the plot for “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT”? As I just hinted, I did not find the use of post-Soviet Russians as villains original. And the villains’ goal to destroy the U.S. economy did not seem original, as well. I have four more complaints about the movie. One, I never saw the necessity of including Jack’s years before the C.I.A. – as a graduate student in Britain and his time in the U.S. Marines. In fact, it was not really necessary for screenwriters to designate the William Harper character as Jack’s recruiter, since he was more important in Jack’s efforts to prevent Cherevin’s plot to destroy the U.S. economy. I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed by Cozad and Koepp’s use of the Cathy Muller character as a damsel-in-distress – especially in the movie’s second half. And speaking of the second half, once Jack and Harper fly back to the U.S. to prevent the attack, the plot seemed to rush forward with the speed of a runaway train. As for the movie’s title – I found it cumbersome and amateurish. Enough said.

Despite its flaws, I still enjoyed “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT”. Despite a plot that lacked originality, I must admit that I found it entertaining. Three-fourths of the plot regarding the terrorist attack struck me as well-paced. And I must admit that possessed a great deal of suspense – especially in the sequence that featured Jack’s attempt to download Cherevin’s files in the middle of a dinner party between him, Cherevin and Cathy in Moscow. The movie also had its share of first-rate action sequences. I was especially impressed by the assassination attempt on Jack inside his Moscow hotel room, Jack and Harper’s attempt to rescue the kidnapped Cathy from Cherevin during a car chase, and the final action scene in which Jack tries to prevent Cherevin’s son from blowing up Wall Street. I thought Kenneth Braunagh handled those scenes very well. I was also impressed by his direction of two particular dramatic scenes – Cathy’s confrontation with Jack and Harper inside the younger man’s hotel room; along with Jack and Cathy’s tense dinner with Cherevin at a Moscow restaurant. The movie also benefited from Haris Zambarloukos’ sleek and colorful photography – especially the Moscow sequences, Martin Walsh’s editing in the Moscow hotel fight scene, the Cherevin dinner sequence and the final action sequence in Manhattan.

“JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” featured some pretty solid performances. Both Chris Pine and Keira Knightley were excellent as the younger Jack Ryan and Cathy Muller. And the two performers rose above the occasion to really shine in the scene that featured their characters’ Moscow confrontation about their relationship. Colm Feore and David Paymer gave brief, yet entertaining performances in the movie. It seemed a pity that they did not have more scenes. Alec Utgoff was properly villainous in a subtle way as the terrorist Aleksandr Borovsky. But I feel that the movie’s two best performances came from Kevin Costner and director Kenneth Branaugh, who portrayed Jack’s mentor William Harper and the main villain Viktor Cherevin. In a way, it almost seemed a pity that Costner was not the main hero of this story. He was excellent as the cool and resourceful Harper. More importantly, he reminded me – and a relative of mine – that he was charismatic as ever and had not lost his screen presence. Branaugh had the more difficult task of serving as the movie’s director, which he performed with great style; and portraying the movie’s leading villain. And he did a superb job of conveying Cherevin’s frightening personality without being over-the-top about it.

Considering that “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” was released in January, I was not expecting it to be some top-notch action thriller that usually rakes in a lot of money during the summer movie season. And the movie pretty much lived up to my expectations. I could never regard “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” as one of the better action movies I have seen. And I certainly do not regard it as highly as I do the other four movies in the Jack Ryan movie franchise. But as I had earlier pointed out, Kenneth Branaugh still managed to direct the movie with a good deal of style and energy. The plot may not have been that original, but it still proved to be entertaining. And the first-rate performances from a cast led by Chris Pine did a lot to make this movie somewhat worthy to me.

Advertisements

“ATONEMENT” (2007) Review

 

“ATONEMENT” (2007) Review

Based upon Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, ”ATONEMENT” told the story about how the lies and misunderstandings of 13-year-old girl from a nouveau-riche English family affected the romance between her older sister and the son of the family’s housekeeper. The movie starred James McAvoy, Keira Knightely and Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan.

Comprised in four parts (like the novel), ”ATONEMENT” began with the 13 year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring novelist with a crush on Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the family’s housekeeper. Robbie, along with Briony’s older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) have both returned for the summer in 1935, following their education at Cambridge. Although both Robbie and Cecilia have been aware of each other at Cambridge, neither have not bothered to acknowledged their romantic interest in each other until recently. Also at the Tallis home for the weekend are Briony and Cecilia’s cousins – the 15 year-old Lola Quincey (Juno Temple) and her younger twin brothers – and their older brother Leon’s friend, the owner of a chocolate factory named Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch).

After Briony had witnessed several disturbing scenes – at least in her eyes – between Robbie and Cecilia, she comes to the conclusion that Robbie might be a sexual threat to Cecilia. Matters worsened when Briony joined the rest of the household in the search for Lola’s twin brothers, who had ran off in protest against their parents’ upcoming divorce. During the search for the twins, Briony witnessed the rape of her cousin Lola on the family estate by a man in a dinner suit. In the end, Briony claimed that the man she saw raping Lola was Robbie. Aside from Cecilia, the rest of the family believed Briony and Robbie ends up being sent to prison. At the outset of World War II, the British government released Robbie from prison on condition that he enlist as a private in the British Expeditionary Force. The rest of the movie, set during the early years of World War II, featured Robbie’s brief reunion with Cecilia – who had become a nurse – before his journey to France and the now 18 year-old Briony’s (Romola Garai) experiences as a wartime nurse.

”ATONEMENT” turned out to be a first-rate film about the destructive consequences of lies and illusions. Both director Joe Wright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton structured the movie in an unusual way in which not only did they allow moviegoers different conflicting perspective on certain incidents in the story – a prime example would be both Briony and Robbie’s different points-of-view on an incident regarding Cecilia’s retrieval of a broken vase from the estate fountain, but also quite cleverly hinted that certain aspects of story – especially the World War II segments – may have been colored by Briony’s own emotions and imagination. Also, Wright, along with art directors Ian Bailie, Nick Gottschalk and Niall Moroney; and production designer Sarah Greenwood did an excellent job in re-creating the rich atmosphere of Britain in the mid-1930s and 1940 and especially the Dunkirk expedition. I also have to commend Paul Tothill for the film’s superb editing. Tothill managed to give ”ATONEMENT” a rhythmic style that matched the sound of a typewriter that added an illusionary sense to the unfolding story. In other words, by editing the story in a way that allowed certain scenes to be told from different points of view and added a sense of illusion, Tothill’s work gave the audience a false sense of illusion – at least for those who have never read McEwan’s novel.

I do have one quibble about the movie’s production . . . and I have to place the blame on Wright’s direction. I am referring the sequence that featured Robbie’s arrival at the beach at Dunkirk. At first glance, I was struck by the spectacle of Wright’s direction and Seamus McGarvey’s photography of the entire montage. Like I said . . . at first. Unfortunately, the montage ended up lasting several minutes too long. Not much time had passed when I found myself longing for it to end. I realized that Wright wanted to reveal the horror and chaos of war in all of its glory. But in the end, he simply went too far.

I must admit that I was not as impressed by most of the cast of ”ATONEMENT” as most critics and moviegoers. There was nothing earth-shattering about most of the performances . . . just good, solid work. Many moviegoers and critics had been surprised when both James McAvoy and Keira Knightley failed to earn Academy Award nominations. After watching the movie, I am not really surprised. Mind you, both gave very competent performances as the two lovers – Robbie and Cecilia But I had two problems with McAvoy and Knightley. One, their screen chemistry was not that explosive, considering the heated romance of their characters. It took a love scene inside the Tallis library to truly generate any heat between them. And two, I think their performances were hampered by Wright’s decision to allow the characters to speak in a staccato style that was prevalent in the movies of the 1930s and 40s in both Hollywood and Britain. I hate to say this, but McAvoy and Knightley never really managed to utilize this speech pattern with any effectiveness. There were times when their attempts to use it threatened to make their performances seem stiff and rushed. Perhaps they were simply too young and inexperienced.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by the three actresses who portrayed Briony Tallis at different stages in her life. Legendary actress Vanessa Redgrave portrayed a 70-80 year-old Briony, who had not only wrote a novel based upon the events surrounding Robbie’s arrest, but also confessed to the mistake she had committed decades earlier. And Romola Garai portrayed the character as an 18 year-old wartime nurse. Both actresses did an excellent job of portraying these older versions of Briony. But it was the young actress Saoirse Ronan who stole the movie as the 13 year-old Briony, whose naivety, jealousy toward Cecilia and Robbie’s budding romance and penchant for illusions led to devastating consequences for the romantic pair. Unlike McAvoy and Knighteley, Ronan gave a superb and natural performance as the confused and emotional Briony. It is not surprising that her work eventually earned BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

Before I end this review, I have to point out something that trouble me about ”ATONEMENT”. I might as well admit that I have never read McEwan’s novel . . . which is why the following storyline left me feeling confused. From what I have read about the film and the novel, Briony’s cousin, Lola Quincey, had been raped by the Tallis’ guest, Paul Marshall. And yet . . . she married the man, five years later. Why? Was it because she never knew that Marshall had been the one who had raped her? But judging from the hostile look she had given Briony at her wedding, Lola seemed well aware of that fact. Did Marshall actually raped her? Or had he seduced her that night the twins disappeared and Robbie was arrested? Perhaps the novel made the details of Lola’s storyline clearer. The movie left it murky. At least for me.

In the end, I must admit that ”ATONEMENT” proved to be one of the best movies released in 2007. Was it the best movie of that year? I have no idea. I have not seen ”NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN”. At least not yet. But despite some of the movie’s flaws, director Joe Wright managed to lift the usual Merchant Ivory façade of Britain’s past and create an emotionally dark film from Ian McEwan’s novel.