If I’d watched this when it first hit theaters I might have correctly identified it as an early warning sign that we were about to go to war with the Russians again (See reviews for Equalizer and November Man for more on that), but I missed it and waited until it hit Netflix to check it out.
As a fan of Hunt for Red October, and to a lesser extent all the other Jack Ryan movies, I was excited for Shadow Recruit, mostly because Chris Pine did such a good job as Captain Kirk in the first Star Trek movie, but also because Kenneth Branagh was directing and was playing the villain.
This movie makes some changes to the Jack Ryan backstory (as most of the movies do, actually) and we open with Jack at the London School of Economics, where he witnesses the attack on the World Trade Center, and subsequently dedicates his life to fighting for America. He joins the marines, gets shot down in a helicopter in Afghanistan, meets his wife, Dr. Cathy (played here by Kiera Knightly) while in rehab for his bad back (a constant in the Jack Ryan mythology) and gets recruited into the CIA by Kevin Costner. The trailer made it look like Costner might be a bad guy, but it turns out that he cleverly was just the James Earl Jones/Morgan Freeman stand-in character.
Next we meet Russian Branagh, doing mean Russian things, like beating up his subordinates, and plotting…well, something. He meets with Mikhail Baryshnikov in a park, who’s apparently a high-up Russian muckity-muck, and not actually just playing Mikhail Baryshnikov. I like to think this is where his character ended up after White Nights, but there’s probably only 3 people on the planet who remember that movie.
Jack goes to work for the CIA on Wall Street, helps a buddy ask out a girl, checks out his buddy’s new motorcycle, and then there’s a lot of financial mumbo-jumbo about Russian politics and business. Apparently we didn’t learn our lesson from Phantom Menace, which is, your action movie should probably not be centered on a confusing, boring bunch of politics like trade sanctions or devaluing the dollar (which is the Russians big plan. Oh, and a bomb. Of course there’s a bomb.)
Jack identifies some Russian skullduggery and makes his way over there, annoying his soon-to-be wife, who thinks he might be having an affair what with all the sneaking around and sudden trips to Russia. He’s met at the airport by a friendly Ugandan who drives him to his hotel room then promptly tries to kill him. This is so we can have an action sequence, because I can’t imagine Branagh’s plan included killing Ryan on day one of his visit, thus drawing more attention to himself.
Jack is of course freaked out by this, calls someone at the CIA and is then met by Costner (who’s also in Russia, duh) who tells him, “You’re operational.” Which is great considering he’s a financial analyst with two weeks of training. So, good job. I’m sure he’ll be fine.
Ryan then goes to his meeting with Branagh in the morning, who taunts him about the attack:
Russian Branagh: “How was your flight?”
Jack Ryan: “It was fine.”
Russian Branagh: “And the jetlag? That first night can be brutal.”
Jack Ryan: “I survived.”
So these guys are giving each other the business, which is great, they have a little stand off, then Branagh tells him the Russian company he came to audit sold off all the assets that were about to be audited so he can go home. Which, isn’t that just a tad suspicious? Wouldn’t something like that just cause the entire system to come down on Branagh’s head? “We’re here to audit these twenty companies.” “Oh, we just sold all of those three minutes before you got here.” “Well, I guess we got nothing. Thanks, though.” I mean, really?
So instead Ryan invites him to dinner, to a restaurant across the street from Branagh’s office, trying to figure out some way he can hack Branagh’s computer, because apparently in order for his plan to succeed Branagh had to place a bunch of sell orders on his computer in advance, and if Ryan can find them they can erase them or something, but it’s already past silly, so we let that slide.
Then out of nowhere Dr. Cathy shows up, finds Ryan’s gun in his room (that Costner just gave him, because he’s now “operational” and he breaks down and tells her he’s in the CIA and she says, “Oh, thank God. I thought you were having an affair.” It was amusing, but Affleck’s phone call to tell Cathy he’s in the CIA in Sum of All Fears was better done.
Then there’s this Russian guy in Michigan, hanging with his “parents” and they go to church and the preacher starts a sermon about Lamentations, which was apparently the activation phrase, cause now these Michigan Russians are in business, and first things first they kill the FBI guy that was following them. So, efficent work there.
Back to Russia where Dr. Cathy inserts herself into the CIA op, with Costner’s permission, because she’s totally untrained, but she’s hot, and Branagh has a weak spot for married women, so that should buy Ryan enough time to break into the super secure Russian business and delete those pesky sell orders. Jack wants Cathy to wear the engagement ring he bought her, but she’s annoyed because he told her he couldn’t tell her he was in the CIA unless they were married, and now she’s paranoid he only wanted to marry her so he could tell somebody who he was working for. Which is dumb no matter how long you think about it.
So apparently the plan is to plug something into the electrical outlet in the office next to Branagh’s because you can use any electrical wire to get to the hard drive in Branagh’s office, which literally makes no sense, and also means he could do that by plugging it into an outlet in the lobby, if that really works, but whatever, we need to crank up the tension.
Ryan and Branagh talk about Afghanistan at dinner, and Branagh says his son was killed there, then Ryan plays drunk so Cathy can tell him to walk it off and chat up Branagh while he runs across the street to do spy things. Then Cathy becomes Sherlock Holmes and tells Branagh he’s in stage 3 of Cirhossis and will be dead in 3 months, and he knows that, so I guess he’s on some kind of last ditch mission to blow up America cause he’s pissed about his son being killed by a grenade supplied to Afghan rebels by the CIA.
Jack gets let into the secure building by a Russian security guard who’s apparently on the CIA payroll, then has to sneak into the office next to Branagh’s, then needs a laptop to find the files, but needs a password, calls his old buddies on Wall Street, who apparently have the password for some reason, and downloads all the files to a thumb drive, so I guess he wasn’t deleting them. But here comes the bad guys, of course. My favorite part of this scene is Jack hanging up as soon as his boss gives him the password (the old “no one says good bye in a movie” trope) only there’s a cut to his boss going, “Hello? Jack?” Which was great because no one ever calls anybody on using that trope.
Of course Branagh’s chief of security was alerted when Ryan rebooted the system and rushes back, calls Branagh, who’s busy hitting on Dr. Cathy, Ryan escapes because Costner is sniping guards from across the street giving him clear exits, then Branagh’s assistant comes to physically drag Branagh out of the restaurant, and he realizes what’s happening and takes Dr. Cathy along.
Ryan hands off the drive, then wanders up just in time to look vaguely suspicious, and takes Dr. Cathy and they leave. Branagh then shoots his head of security, for no apparent reason, and takes a light bulb from his desk lamp. At the time this made no sense, but apparently Branagh can see the future, cause he’ll be using that light bulb in just a minute.
Russians show up to kidnap Dr. Cathy and Jack chases them. Turns out that engagement ring he was so keen on her wearing is a tracking device, which he uses to follow them, then Branagh calls him and tells him if he doesn’t give the thumb drive back he’s going to put the light bulb in Dr. Cathy’s mouth and crush it, which will painfully kill her with vacuum packed glass.
Then Jack’s car careens into a truck, Jack gets out and chases Branagh’s car down on foot and makes them swerve off the road by hitting their window with a pipe. He punches Branagh, saves Dr. Cathy, and Branagh drives off angry again. Jack and Cathy make their way to the CIA plane heading back to the US because apparently the plan is set to go off in 18 hours and they have to figure out what Branagh is going to blow up, because Ryan informs Costner that the only way this plan works is if there’s a terrorist attack right before Branagh sells all his stocks.
Since the Russians killed their FBI follower the CIA has figured out that the guy from Michigan must be Branagh’s sleeper, and so while they’re flying back from Moscow (I’ve been on that flight, btw, it’s long) they try to figure out what he’s going to blow up.
Meanwhile the sleeper steals a truck in Detroit and kills his old supervisor (just for good measure, I guess) and takes off.
While they fly Cathy watches Ryan doing his analyst thing, jumping from computer to computer and subject to subject and she’s just staring at him. I guess she was impressed but at the time it looked like she was terrified. I think this was the, “This is what my man was born to do” moment, because from this point she’s totally on board with the CIA. Jack does some kind of Sherlock level abductive reasoning (that’s the correct term, I looked it up) and figures out he’s on his way to Pennsylvania.
Costner tells him, “Nobody blows up Pennsylvania.” Which is a fair point, but it turns out he’s just going there to pick up the bomb he’s delivering to…well, that’s still the question. Ryan gives some shoutouts in this scene to Instagram, Facebook, Hopscotch and Reddit, and they find the Russian guy’s “parents” took some pictures in Manhattan and Instagrammed them, and that’s how the Sleeper knows what to blow up. In a few years all these things will totally date this movie.
Now Cathy’s decided to jump in and be an analyst because she sees a picture of Jack’s Wall Street Office building, so that must be the target.
Cut to Branagh in his office waiting for the bomb to go off so he can start selling his stock and devaluing the American currency.
The CIA has apparently called everyone to warn them about the bomb because Jack’s building is surrounded by Police vans, and they’re getting all the civilians out of the building. Jack does his detective thing again and figures out one of the police vans has some recently painted signage on it, and that must be the sleeper, then Jack borrows his buddy’s motorcycle and gives chase. He calls Costner and tells him, “It’s Waterloo! Right out of Napoleon’s playbook. He’s going under the building!” Which, you know, ok.
Then the sleeper slams on his brakes, gets Ryan to wreck, then drives his fake police van into the sewer to set off the bomb. But Jack managed to get there on foot! Fist fight! Jack knocks the sleeper around then drives the van out of the sewer, cause he can’t disarm the bomb in time, but he has time to drive through downtown New York and drive the van off a pier, apparently, cause that’s what Jack intends to do.
But wait! The sleeper is somehow in the back of the van disabling the timer! How did he get in there? How did Ryan not notice that? Ryan ties the seatbelt to the steering wheel to keep the van pointed at the pier and jumps in the back to fistfight again! And then just before the van goes off the pier he heroically leaps out the back, leaving the sleeper to explode in the Hudson. Good for him.
We get a shot of Branagh in front of a painting of Waterloo (I guess that was his plan). Then Branagh is back in the park meeting Baryshnikov, who shoots him. He dies while saying, “I did it for Russia.”
Then Jack and Cathy are at the hospital and make out. Then Jack gets to meet the President. The End.
And in the end this movie was, uh, well…like maybe a six out of ten. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t terrible. I mean, I’m one of the few people in the world who liked Sum of All Fears, so what do I know. I just like Jack Ryan and Tom Clancy movies, so make of that what you will. (For the record I don’t care for Clancy books, way too technical).
So watch it on Netflix if you like Jack Ryan or Chris Pine (and his dreamy blue eyes) or Kiera Knightly (who’s super hot) or Kenneth Branagh (doing a Russian accent for an hour and half) or if you’re really into movies with complicated plots that involve devaluing the American Dollar.
There, I watched it. So now you don’t have to.