Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (1/2 Star)

IMDb listing listing*

CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit [2014] (directed by Kenneth Branagh, screenplay by Adam Cozad and David Koepp) is an ideologically cumbersome and technically silly reboot of the characters around American spy-thriller author Tom Clancy [IMDb]'s most famous hero, the mild-mannered Langley based "CIA analyst" who when need be becomes a butt-kicking field agent Jack Ryan [IMDb] and who's become Anglo-American pop-literature's most famous spy after Ian Fleming [IMDb]'s James Bond [IMDb].

Hmmm, so what's so wrong with the story? ;-)  Well, above all, whatever Tom Clancy's political affiliations actually were (and the American-Right has certainly tried to claim him as its own) Tom Clancy was both imaginative and intelligent.  His villains were widely dispersed.  In his universe, the villains who crash a Boeing 747 into the U.S. Capitol Building during the U.S. president's State of the Union Address (a scenario described in his book Debt of Honor [1994] (!!)) killing the President, most of Congress and all of the U.S. Supreme Court WERE JAPANESE.  Now THAT's one heck of a ("didn't see that one coming...") compelling spy novel scenario as opposed to the eyes rolling "Ah, it's the Ruskies (TBtG at least it's not the 'turban heads') again..." pedestrian quality of the current film. 

Then while it's always a challenge to make compelling optics of spy-craft in our computer-based, digital age -- the last James Bond movie, Skyfall [2012], actually did a much better job with this -- the sort-of "cliff-hanging" scene, where the young rebooted Jack Ryan (played by Chris Pine) has broken-into the Evil Russian FSB-connected oligarch Viktor Cherebin's (played by Kenneth Branagh) post-communist glass-and-concrete by Moscow's Red Square fortress-like lair and then into Cherebin's computer (after calling back to his cover-job (now as an undercover "Wall Street Analyst") to ask his naive/salt-of-the-earth "just makin' money for da stockholders" Wall Street boss VIA CELL PHONE: "BTW can you quickly give me the password we have on file for Cherebin's accounts") and is then seen DOWNLOADING all of Cherebin's "secret accounts" to his (Ryan's) trusty little netbook / flash drive WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY ANALYZING the hundreds upon hundreds of lines of numbers and text scrolling down his screen PER SECOND from said "secret files,"  makes a mockery OF ANYONE who's ever tried to make sense of a simple "Google search" while the phone starts ringing or one's being "called down for dinner" back home ;-).  It's just insane: Jack Ryan presumably can read hundreds upon hundreds of lines of text scrolling down his screen at break-neck speed, PRESUMABLY IN CYRILLIC, to quickly (in real time) unravel the Evil Russian Oligarch Cherebin's plot to "crash the whole U.S. economy" in a single financial if coordinated blow.  Note to the NSA: there's no need for supercomputers to analyze ECHELON data (every phone call, ever made, anywhere ...) when one has superhuman analysts like the new Jack Ryan on staff ;-).

Then the film's makers can't seem to decide how Evil / closed they want to make Russia today.  One on hand, they want to make Russia a still largely impenetrable Cold-War like entity.  On the other hand, the CIA is apparently able to drive freely (and _discretely_) around Moscow with an NYPD-style surveillance van stuffed to the hilt with electronics gear.  Indeed, a far more interesting film could have been made of simply imagining how American intelligence would secret-in all the parts to make such a surveillance vehicle in Moscow.  After all, one would imagine that the FSB would have a surveillance cam (or two...) around the U.S. embassy monitoring traffic in-and-out of its motorpool ;-): "Sergei, looks like discrete Amerikanskij NYPD-style surveillance van going out for spin again today.  Tell Sasha to put on tail..."  Then wouldn't the Russians be able to confiscate such a super-secret "top of the line" surveillance van (if only temporarily ... but not before completely disassembling it and returning it to our embassy in boxes) by simply stopping it for a random "tail light" violation? ;-)

Sigh, Chris Pine seems to be doomed to play B-grade rebooted versions of legendary characters (he also has had the unenviable task of playing the new Captain James T. Kirk [IMDb] in the rebooted Star Trek films).   And poor Keira Knightley playing the young Jack Ryan's future wife Cathy [IMDb].  She played the hilt out of the script that she was given, but the Anna Karenina [IMDb] of two years back really deserved better than this.

What then of the overall nefarious plot?  The Evil Russian FSB pissed-off at the proposed construction of pipeline through the Republic of Georgia / Turkey (To carry whose oil/gas?  CERTAINLY NOT RUSSIA'S... so...?) decide nevertheless to retaliate by seeking to destroy the U.S. economy with a single coordinated blow.  To do so, they awake "sleeper agents" in the U.S. by sending a cumbersome coded message through the RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH.  Imagine ALL THOSE YEARS sitting at _endless_ Orthodox Christian liturgies (they are _lovely_ but they are so, sooo long ;-) waiting for a single out of place word to be said.  "Slava Bogu!" one sleeper agent exclaims on catching the coded message.  Slava Bogu indeed ;-).  And here one thought that the FSB was merely sending coded messages to its agents through endless piles of internet porn ;-).

Anyway, working on Wall Street, undercover (hmm... the CIA's charter must have been "discretely changed" post-9/11...), is CIA analyst Jack Ryan who finds something amiss with Evil Russian Oligarch Viktor Cherebin's accounts with his firm just as tensions between the U.S. and Russia appear to rise over said proposed pipeline.  SOOO he asks his naive, salt-of-the-earth Wall Street Boss if he could fly out to Moscow to ask Viktor Cherebin "what's up with that?"  He gets permission ... the rest follows ;-)

Sigh ... could the Japanese be hired to crash their 747 into ... never mind.

ADDENDUM - Since this film came out / I wrote my above review about it, obviously a number of things have changed "on the geopolitical scene" as it were, notably the crisis in the Ukraine / Crimea.  Please don't take any of the above review as somehow an endorsement of Putin, et al's policies.  It's not.  Yet I honestly don't believe it serves anybody's interests, American or the world's to make fun of people.

Indeed, one of the very, very few things that I'd agree with Putin in would be his assessment of many Americans' attitudes toward his country.  In one of the articles run by Time Magazine when Time selected him as their "Person of the Year" one year, they quote him as saying that it appeared to him that many Americans think of the Russians as "only one generation from swinging from the trees."

Unfortunately, I do believe he's right (in _this_) and no I don't believe it's anything remotely approaching "a good thing" that such disdain for another people is considered acceptable by many of us.  In fact, it's been my experience that common Russians consider themselves as "exceptional" as many common Americans think of themselves -- They see themselves as having a "proud history of 1000 years of expansion" (their version of "Manifest Destiny" ...) they remember themselves as having driven the Nazis back to Berlin (and Napoleon back to Paris before that), etc, etc -- It's not particularly good if common Russians think that Americans are blithely spitting the olive pits from their Martinis at them ... and yet many (including Putin) do ...

So IMHO films like this one really don't help ANYBODY.  Instead, they serve to confirm the worst stereotypes that both Russians and Americans have of each other.  And I can't see that as being even remotely "good" in any conceivable way.

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