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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’

A formulaic action film with the new form of modern hero — smart as well as physical

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

2 Stars — Mixed values

Both directing and playing a major role in his film, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Kenneth Branagh creates an entertaining if formulaic action film.

Similar to his work with Thor and Iron Man 2, Branagh's eye is focused on the handsome hero who shows superiority over everyone else in both his body and mind. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) fits that role perfectly as a handsome genius who is also a decorated Marine in Afghanistan and has now been recruited by Admiral Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) for the CIA.

After spending 10 years searching financial records for evidence of funding for terrorist groups in order to protect our nation from further attacks, Ryan unexpectedly discovers such a financial scheme in the shadows of Russia. Bringing military and banking forces together, the scheme is being led by Viktor Cherevin (Branagh), who intends to accomplish an actual terrorist bombing at the same time he dumps trillions of U.S. treasury bonds to cause a collapse of the American economy.

An extremely complex plot, Ryan is the only one who even understands how it could be accomplished, and so he is called out of the office into the field.

Having fallen in love with his doctor who helped him recover from his Afghanistan injuries, Ryan has repeatedly asked Dr. Kathy Muller (Keira Knightley) to marry him, but she has declined. Intuitively knowing that Ryan is more than a banker, she secretly follows him to Moscow where he has been sent to deal with the terrorist threat. This adds both love and complexity to the plot, but even this is just more formulaic action as Kathy becomes a central part of the danger.

Like most films of its genre, the plot of this film adds little to our lives in either understanding our humanity or international relations. It does, however, make an exciting tale of danger and intrigue with heroes who need to be both smart and strong.

Although we would not recommend the violence, it is good to see an old-fashioned tale where the hero is a good and faithful man simply trying to protect his fiancée as well as his fellow Americans.


» As the 2014 Winter Olympics approach, the Russian government and military have come under scrutiny. Do you believe this sets the stage for films to once again make the Russians our enemies, or do you see this film's plot making the terrorist leader a Russian just an anomaly?

» Finding the power to protect ourselves from a cyber attack is difficult. What do you believe is the solution?

» Expecting that you could keep your CIA involvement a secret from the woman you love is virtually impossible. If it doesn't raise suspicion as it did with Kathy, it would at least cause distance. What would you have done if you were Ryan?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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