Review Roundup - Spy Games

 JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)

While it's a current trend to reboot and remake every salable brand the Hollywood machine can think of, dusting off Tom Clancy's espionage series is a less obvious choice. Clearly aiming for the younger audience, here the character from The Hunt for Red October is swapped out for a younger model, with Chris Pine from the newest Star Trek films taking over as a fresh faced version of Jack Ryan. The casting is not the only obvious tactic they have employed to draw in viewers - this has the distinct feeling of the still influential Jason Bourne series, right down to the poster art. One scene is even a direct lift from the opening to Casino Royale, a distracting moment for anyone that remembers Daniel Craig's first kill. But does this offer anything noteworthy on it's own merit? And more importantly does it manage to put together some decent spy game material when the central character is not an action hero?


Pine himself does a decent job with the material, and has some good moments of chemistry with both Keira Knightly as his fiancé and Kenneth Branagh; who doubles as the villain and the director. An evil Russian tycoon may be trite, but it's not overdone. The real character moments are where the film shows it's strengths; and there are a few good exchanges of dialogue be it between the central couple or those typically pointed conversations movie heroes and villains have together. The problem is that the target audience probably isn't here for drawn out discussions on classic literature - so ultimately you have to include all the standard ticking clock clichés and chase sequences. Unfortunately there are a couple of issues with the story which mean including them isn't that simple - Jack Ryan is repeatedly stated as being an analyst, not a killer (despite some time in the Marines, which he never finishes) and the fact that this is another of those fashionable stories about contemporary plot devices; in this case financial terrorism. Yes it's nice to see him out of his element when an assassin strikes, but nobody is going to be gripped by lengthy scenes of him typing, watching computer screens, or doing data searches. Casino Royale was about stock market manipulation but there wasn't a lengthy scene involving the days trading at the exchange in the finale, it was all muscle. This just seems like a badly balanced compromise.

It's a shame that they had some interesting ideas to work with don't seem able to execute them in a satisfying way. Yes there's a bike chase, a fight in the hotel room and a nasty part involving a lightbulb in someone's mouth... but there's never any real tension building. There might have been a good character piece here if they'd have given more time to those moments; this just isn't the spy movie that Branagh talked about making, even with the scenes of people meeting on park benches or passing envelopes in a darkened cinema. The focus is lost with all these elements - a decision should have been made to do a serious thriller or a full on action movie. It never gets to the visceral thrills of the Bourne series, even if the music is trying to emulate it - this is just uninvolving. 

2/5

BONUS REVIEW
BLUE JASMINE (2013)


Cate Blanchett does a terrific job as the once wealthy title character in this Woody Allen feature, which shows her arrive at a less than inviting sister's home after losing it all. As things progress it's clear that not only has she done some of this to herself and caused big problems for her family along the way, but her financial state may be just one of the problems she is dealing with. Drinking becomes frequent and flashbacks are not only being shown to tell the story but to show her mind wandering into a concerning state of decay. There are echoes of A Streetcar Named Desire with this setup, although the supporting cast have their own subplots which intertwine with Jasmine's own downward spiral. The end results are a bit predictable, but this is a watchable and involving drama - just not the laugh out loud comedy certain poster quotes will have you believe, though you might chuckle awkwardly along the way.

3/5