Saturday, January 18, 2014

Review: "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"

There is much I can (and have already) said about America's post 9/11 attitude towards global politics. Despite term limits and all, Dick Cheney's empirical plan for perpetual war appears to still be in effect, and worst of all, wholeheartedly believed in and endorsed by a populace frightened over another attack. Through all of the preemptive bravado and violent rhetoric (and bombs), there was a sliver of time when fighting felt, gasp, like the right thing to do.

In Hollywood's latest prequel/continuation/reboot/re imagining, this gung ho spirit is infectiously presented and executed.

Jack Ryan - portrayed previously by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, now Chris Pine - was one of many young men and women to witness the 9/11 attacks, and decide to enlist as soon as possible. Some time later, he is injured in combat, and sent to rehab. His feelings toward this hospital stint are painted on his body; he was told to rehab, but all he heard was he'd be unable to serve his country. Every painful walking attempt is filled with defeat and anger.

At the right moment, CIA official Kevin Costner offers him a new way to help... as a covert analyst. I don't recall the details of Ryan's job in previous adaptations, but in this contemporary setting, being "covert" says so much. He's told not to tell anyone of his position, which places him as a data decoder (or analyst) in a financial firm, but what does it matter? Couldn't he work for a contracted think tank, or in an actual agency facility? Why play this game? Are we doing it for defense, or self fulfilling purpose?

Just brush these questions and concerns away, as the movie doesn't care, and may even be an unaware victim of this psychological syndrome.

For example: Jack uncovers a terrorist plot that he is 100% sure of (and correct about) by having read a series of transaction data. Normally, this information would just be pondered over as some kind of business world conspiracy, and lead to something bigger. Instead, it's taken by Jack's boss as spot on. Is it sweet or sickening witnessing such naivety? Even our villain, Russian Kenneth Branagh, has his intellect hijacked by an unquestioning and idealistically loyal sense of nationalism.

A deeper statement about the state of the War on Terror, by showing how blindfolded all the players are, would've been a brilliant turn. But that's not what is happening. What we have is the origin story of a clean cut American, almost boy scout even, who uncovers information and foils plans with effortless efficiency and wide eyed pride, in a scenario with no double crosses, trickery or ulterior motives. Maybe Branagh (who directed this) thought he was making another Marvel film - this time, Captain America.

It's this flag saluting spirit and appealing idealism that saves this otherwise generic and awfully simple film from being another January throwaway. In fact, it might be a perfect example of the "shut your brain off and enjoy" movie. This approach also describes how best to view current global politics - if you want to live stress and care free, that is. For your family, your community and your country.

3/5 *s

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