Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"; The Pleasures of Entertainment; Extended Film Review by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The Pleasures of Entertainment
Extended Film Review by Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Draft 2)

(*) First published at on January 29th, 2014, under Will "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", directed by Kenneth Branagh, deliver?

I found "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", directed by Mr. Kenneth Branagh, to be an engaging thriller, one that appreciates the value of the human side to any story amid the purely visual and sonic elements, notwithstanding its essentially overused plot line. Unlike many recent releases in the spy genre, the film realizes that the action scenes succeed if the audience cares for the characters in the first place; if shots and scenes are clear in detail and are allowed to develop for adequate perception; if streets chases and fist fights stand in relieving contrast to moments of tranquility say in a forest; and if the plot makes any sense at all. Hence, to say that Mr. Branagh the thespian outdoes Mr. Branagh the director is more to highlight the very unique and irreplaceable niche that this fine artist occupies in performance arts, rather than to underappreciate his sophisticated cinematic skills.

The film credits the recently deceased author Tom Clancy only for the characters, and his presence is felt in their humane three-dimensional feel and motivations, and in the many turns of the story. Compared to an earlier Clancy adaptation, it lacks the stylish and outlandish look of "Clear and Present Danger," one of my favorites. One could also miss the sympathizing bashfulness of Mr. Harrison Ford's version of a mature Ryan, and the striking novelty of events and locations in that earlier film. However, Shadow's immediate touch of the camera style, framing and edit, besides its consistently fine cast, make up much for such comparative disadvantages. Chris Pine in the title role is as good in his intimate moments as when he's on the run. Kevin Costner brings his signature focused dignity to an underdeveloped role. Keira Knightley sprays her scenes with the delights of youth, while seasoned ballerino Mikhail Baryshnikov saturates his short cameo with demanding dignity. Mr. Branagh's stares and accent inflections would suffice to sum up the sophistication of his performance technique.

The music by Mr. Partick Doyle, with a long history of successful collaborations with the director, is atypical of the composer, as it steers away from his earlier lyrical tone and symphonic sound toward the looped accented rhythms and short fragmentary melodies, which have become the de facto vogue for the genre. Market requirements are understandable, yet given my background in music, I can't hide my secret wish to see more of his previous language to reemerge in later films.

In conclusion, it's hard not to notice the nod to some classic elements from Hitchcock's oeuvre, beyond their already widespread absorption into the cinematic language. In this regard, the extended wrestling scene in a hotel room ends with Ryan's solo victory by suffocating the assassin, a direct reminiscent of how Paul Newman's character eliminates his "minder" in "Torn Curtain". (To others however, it might bring John Schlesinger's "Marathon Man" to mind.) It's doubtful if Hitchcock would have approved of the direct depiction of extreme acts of violence using knives, as we see in the Shadow. But the portrayal of a heavy of the story as a mono-dimensional hardliner, and the structural dynamics of his demise at the end, further recall the epilogue of "Saboteur". Despite such explicit moments, the visual language does control detachment by resorting more to implicit depictions of violence in many other crucial scenes, including the denouement filmed in extreme long shot.

(*) and were consulted for the accuracy of the names.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

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