“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (2014) is non-canonical Tom Clancy. Unlike the previous Jack Ryan films, which featured, respectively, Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck as the character, director Kenneth Branagh’s “Shadow Recruit” was not based on a Tom Clancy novel. It instead borrowed Clancy’s character and dreamt up a story from scratch, penned by Adam Cozad and the old screenwriting stalwart David Koepp. Perhaps this is why the movie opens with Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan as an apple-faced college lad seeing the Twin Towers attack on TV, borrowing the inciting incident of innumerable Hollywood films of the last fifteen years, though Cozad and Koepp still homage Clancy by making the Russians, not Middle Eastern terrorists, the chief villains. This happens because Ryan, spurred by 9/11 to work undercover for the CIA on Wall Street, ferrets out a scheme where the Russian Federation plans to sink the global economy. “Within about six weeks they’re gonna start calling it what it is: the Second Great Depression.”
Prevention of the second great depression comes about by employment of familiar means, be it a car chase, be it an assassin thwarted, be it a break-in to download some files, be it a fiancé who becomes a damsel in distress. That last one is the one I really want to talk about. By now, here in the second paragraph, you, faithful reader, are probably asking yourself why in the world I am reviewing a two year old movie that seems outside of my general wheelhouse. It’s a fair question. The answer is that one Keira Knightley, this blog’s official Cinematic Crush, plays Jack Ryan’s fiancé, Cathy, which is right, because even if Keira is spelled with a “K” Keira looks like a Cathy with a “C”, and I am slowly winding my way toward becoming a Keira Completist because this is how I do. And so I recorded the film off FX and watched it in bursts over a few nights while my beautiful girlfriend, who is completely (or, mostly) cool with me crushing on Keira, was away in Italy.
And I confess that as I watched “Shadow Recruit” I became much more compelled by Cathy’s plight, partially because Keira played the part, yes, but also because Keira’s playing the part made me focus on the part she was playing more than I otherwise would have, and as I did, my mind wandered. My mind wandered to wondering what her home life looked like. Cuz, like, look, we’ve seen this “Shadow Recruit” movie before. And while Branagh handles it with an admirable professionalism, well, how many more times can we see the husband who is really with the CIA but can’t tell his spouse he is with the CIA even though his spouse is slowly becoming suspicious that something suspicious is going on, like her husband being with the CIA. We sort of saw a pushing back against this played out tedium in “Knocked Up”, if you’ll remember, where Leslie Mann’s character, suspicious her spouse was up to something, possibly even having an affair, follows him to some out of the way locale only to discover – egads! – that he is playing fantasy baseball. I enjoyed seeing the secret from the other point of view as opposed to the point of view of the person with the secret.
So, why not that movie in an action movie? Why the insistence on seeing movies about CIA agents from the CIA agent’s point of view? Why can’t we ever see the CIA agent movie from the point of view of the CIA agent’s in-the-dark spouse? Why not “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” as a kind of “Klute”, where the titular male character reveals himself as less important than the primary female character in his orbit? Why not Keira – er, Cathy – at home, suspicious and stuck in a rut but with all these strange warning bells going off in impressionistic bursts, a melding of Keira’s “Last Night” and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”? (Hollywood producers just blacklisted me.)
And if there is an interesting angle in “Shadow Recruit” it’s that when Keira – er, Cathy – shows up in Moscow to surprise her husband who is actually C.I.A.-ing, she stumbles upon a gun in his bag, calls him out, and he confesses the whole truth. And when he confesses, and this is where it gets good (ludicrous), her husband and her husband’s handler actively recruit Keira – er, Cathy – to aid them in a C.I.A.-ing ruse. This is amazing! How on earth is this in any way proper protocol?! An agent’s wife, with no field training, suddenly enlisted to go on a mission to help save the world! It’s like “The Man Who Knew Too Little” but re-imagined as “The Woman Who Knew Too Much.” THAT’S A GODDAM MOVIE! Alas, as quickly as she becomes a fun loving participant, she is reduced to the role of Damsel in Distress, damn it all to hell.
This whole post is wishful thinking, I know, and fair enough. So if we can’t get “The Woman Who Knew Too Much” then maybe, at the very least, we could get a movie about the never-seen cleaning crew that is apparently enlisted midway through “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” to completely wipe any evidence of a bloody fight in a hotel room and dead body.
I’m picturing the crew as Michael Shannon, Kevin Corrigan and Abbi Jacobson.