Sunday, February 2, 2014

Snow Screen: Jack Ryan Saturday

A few weeks ago, I took in the reboot of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series, Shadow Recruit.  It was a serviceable enough action/political/spy thriller in this post Bourne and Bond age with a modern setting and straightforward story.  Chris Pine as the young Ryan is believable as an educated college student who joins the Marines following the 9/11 attacks, gets injured, rehabs and ends up working for the C.I.A. as a financial analyst.  Kenneth Branagh pulls double duty, showing up as the quiet yet menacing Russian villain looking to destabilize the U.S. economy while ably directing the bits of action interspersed with Ryan's budding romance with future wife Cathy (Keira Knightly), his induction into the world of covert ops with mentor Harper (Kevin Costner) and making the transition from analyst to field operative. 

Shadow Recruit is the 5th film based on prolific military/tech fiction author Tom Clancy's work but the first not to be based on one of his novels.  Friends and fellow viewers that evening were disappointed in the latest chapter; feeling the story was too simplistic and suffered from the sometimes awkward scenes between Pine and Knightly.  Looks like Pine will join past Jack Ryans Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck in the "one and done" club but their entries were much more well received than his.  Recruit hasn't kicked up much business at the box office and failed to appeal to younger audiences.

Thanks to Netflix, today became Jack Ryan Saturday as I plopped down for some The Hunt For Red October action, a movie I own on VHS but never actually got around to watching.  In John McTiernan's entry, Ryan is played by Alec Baldwin as a sauve looking yet nervous analyst and author whose knowledge is called upon regarding a near legendary Soviet Union submarine Captain, Marko Ramius (Sean Connery aka Ramirez from Highlander!), who might be defecting or on the verge of starting a nuclear war.  Whereas Shadow showed Ryan's history as a Marine, the past is only given a line of dialog in October to chilling effect.  Baldwin's Ryan is far from an action hero and comes off as a bit of a bumbler who is thrown into the situation due to his knowledge of the subject and is deemed expendable enough to go forth and find out if he's correct. 

October has some real thrills and tense moments throughout which is no small feat considering it's about a bunch of guys talking in submarines and offices during The Cold War.  A stellar cast includes Courtney B. Vance, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Richard Jordon and Sam Neil who give the Soviets and the Americans depth and personality.

Two years later, Paramount released Patriot Games based on Clancy's novel that finds Jack Ryan in England for a lecture and stopping an IRA assassination attempt.  After killing one of the assailants, Ryan goes up against a faction headed by the revenge seeking brother of the man he killed.  This time around though, Harrison Ford steps into the role.  In a bit of shady behind the scenes Hollywood dealing, it's said that Paramount owed Ford a lot of money for a movie that fell apart and offered him the sequel to Red October as a way to resolve some of the debt while placing a well known, bankable movie star into an established role currently held by talented but less recognizable actor Alec Baldwin.  When Baldwin heard all of this second hand, he refused to play ball with the back stabbing studio and went off to do a play instead.

In Games, Ryan is the main attraction as October cast the spotlight on Connery's defecting ship commander.  Since Ford is a few years older than Baldwin, the character is now a retired C.I.A. analyst turned professor.  Given Ford's pedigree as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, his turn as Ryan is more physical  than Baldwin's but is still not an action hero in the vein of cinema contemporaries like John McClane or Martin Riggs.  There's some simple rough and tumble goings on but at the end of the day, it's his brains and time behind a desk doing research that nets him the juicy leads.  While not as compelling as October, Patriot is a fine example of a for adults thriller that deals with current events and the nuts and bolts of clandestine government operations while keeping a foot in reality with the simple paradigm of how does one keep their family safe once exposed to a public threat.

It's a shame that Shadow Recruit didn't find an audience as it's always good to try and give movie goers a bit of excitement peppered with geopolitics, current events and good ol' American spy stuff.  For now, looks like Jack Ryan will take another hiatus and we'll have to settle for super soldiers on the run and depressed secret agents blowing shit up.

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