Action Blu-ray Review

Cloak-and-Dagger Blu-ray Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

June 10, 2014Ben MK

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Mission to Moscow

By Ben Mk

Outside of his body of written work — which encompasses nearly thirty fiction and non-fiction titles — the late Tom Clancy is perhaps best known for the Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell series that bear his name. But before his books spawned videogames, they spawned movies. And before there was Sam Fisher, there was Jack Ryan. The CIA-analyst-turned-action-hero has been M.I.A. from cinema screens for over a decade, but director Kenneth Branagh aims to reverse that trend with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which reboots the series for today's audiences while paying homage to the franchise's Cold War roots.

From the film's opening moments, it's clear that Shadow Recruit doesn't take place in the same continuity as any of the previous films starring Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck. Instead, the storyline sees Jack (Chris Pine) — a former US marine and economics PhD candidate — sent to Moscow and activated for field operations for the first time in his CIA career. Under the tutelage of his CIA mentor and handler, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), he must investigate a shady, billionaire business tycoon named Viktor Cherevin (Branagh) and unravel a Russian plot to destabilize the US economy by way of stock market manipulation and — of course — a terrorist attack. But Jack soon finds the challenges that he faces in Moscow testing both his training and his mettle, especially when the mission takes a personal turn and the life of his fiancée, Cathy (Kiera Knightley), is put in jeopardy.

As Captain James Tiberius Kirk in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek revamp, Pine is no stranger to stepping into the boots of an established character; but the CIA action hero shares only a few traits in common with his portrayal of the iconic starship captain. Though both men are forged in the fire of battle and guided by their unflinching desire to protect those closest to them, Pine's portrayal of Jack Ryan is a boy scout compared to James T. Kirk. And that means there's nothing to distinguish this iteration of the character from Bond or Bourne — even though the film means to reclaim the espionage-action-thriller crown from those other franchises. Branagh is convincing as a brooding, Russian antagonist, but his character doesn't exude the Threatcon Delta gravitas of a Bond villain; and the storyline weaves in none of the elaborate conspiracies that audiences have grown accustomed to from the Bourne films.

What the film does have going for it is a firmer footing in reality. The strong suit of the Jack Ryan stories has always been their ability to play on our collective fears and paranoia — and in today's climate of rising economic uncertainty, living under the ever-present threat of another terrorist attack, Shadow Recruit is no different. Having proven himself on Thor, Branagh once again shows he's capable of helming a blockbuster action tentpole. However, he speeds to the movie's endgame at a breakneck pace, pausing the action mostly to show just how far out of his depth Jack is on his first mission. And while the quick pacing does grant the film that constant momentum that's necessary to sustain its thrills, it also serves to lessen the impact of the story.

Shadow Recruit is activated for duty on Blu-ray with an ultra-slick HD presentation that perfectly showcases the film's excellent production values. Whether Jack's speeding down Wall Street on a motorcycle or engaging in a high-speed car chase through the streets of Moscow, Paramount's Blu-ray transfer has no any trouble keeping up with the action. From the faces of the cast to the building facades that fill cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos' aerial views of New York City, the image brims with fine detail; colors are richly defined, as evidenced by the bold hues of the painting of Napoleon's Waterloo that hangs in Cherevin's office; and, appropriately enough, shadow detail and contrast are superb, as in a scene where Jack rendevous with another agent in a darkened theater to receive his next set of orders. On the audio side, the disc's robust DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack handles everything that the film's action-thriller soundstage throws at it. It brings crystal clarity to whisper-quiet conversations and delivers on the gut-punching, low-frequency impact of missile strikes and bomb blasts, all the while keeping composer Patrick Doyle's score purcolating and pulsing beneath the surface, ready to explode with the action at the drop of a dime.

In addition to DVD and iTunes/Ultraviolet digital copies of the film, Paramount's Blu-ray release boasts nearly one hour of HD special features, beginning with Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room, a 14-minute featurette dedicated to exploring Jack Ryan's place in the pantheon of cinematic action heroes. The 10-minute Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit follows suit, zeroing in on Branagh's role as the film's director and central villain; and that theme is carried forward in Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action, a 5-minute look at Branagh's approach to directing the film. The final featurette, titled Old Enemies Return, mixes things up a bit by using its 21 minutes to educate viewers about the current state of Russia-US relations (and it turns out to be the most insightful doc on the disc). The special features conclude with 5-minutes-worth of Deleted & Extended Scenes (totalling six in all, including a fairly anticlimactic alternate ending). Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura also provide an optional commentary for these scenes, as they do in a feature-length commentary for the film itself, where they discuss such topics as production design, character motivations and the editorial process.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may fall short of the high water mark set by the recent Bond and Bourne films, but it's still a fairly solid and brutally efficient espionage action-thriller — especially in light of how it succeeds in redefining the character while keeping him true to his origins. As for the merits of Paramount's Blu-ray release, the disc features a flawless A/V presentation and a generous array of special features that doesn't sacrifice quality for quantity, making Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit on Blu-ray worthy of a commendation.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★★
Special Features  —  ★★★

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on January 17th, 2014.

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