Brian Henry Martin at the movies

Sir Ken in Russia

Published Thursday, 30 January 2014
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Affecting accents can be a verbal graveyard for many a fine actor. Just ask Sean Connery. But not Sir Ken Branagh, he's played Brits, Yanks, Aussies and Germans with great distinction.

However, in his new movie, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, he tackles the rather tricky tongue of mother Russia for the first time.

Branagh directs and stars in this reboot of Tom Clancy's naval spy, the first Ryan adventure not based on the late author's best selling books. This time CIA Analyst Jack Ryan (played by Chris Pine) uncovers a dastardly Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a deadly terrorist attack. Masterminding all this mayhem is Viktor Cherevin (played by Branagh), a psychotic Moscow business man intent on world domination.

We first see the menacing Viktor sitting with his back to us, (a sure sign that he's the villain), and then ruthlessly dispatching an incompetent doctor with a sharp slap and kick. Viktor is the archetypal megalomaniac; an opera freak, suffering from a mysterious illness with a mental disillusion. All this Russian Blofeld needs is a pussy cat to stroke.

Branagh also decides that his vodka drinking villain should not only sound Russian but speak Russian too. In a vast interior forest, he converses fluently with fellow baddie Mikhael Baryshnikov. But is this verbal dance really necessary? Do we really need to read their exchange in subtitles to get the fact he's Russian?

I felt a collective sigh in the cinema. Especially when the actor being subtitled, Sir Ken, is an English speaking actor in an English speaking movie. Does this really make his character more authentic? I don't think so but highlights the key flaw in Shadow Recruit, too much jaw-jaw and not enough war-war. This suggests a director more comfortable with actors than action.

James Bond and more recently Jason Bourne have cast long shadows over the espionage hero. Jack Ryan seems neither sufficiently suave nor highly skilled to fully capture our imaginations. After all, he's really just a super banker, whose mission success here depends on downloading data onto his memory stick. Hardly thrilling?

Star Trek's Chris Pine as Ryan doesn't take us boldly to anywhere we have not been before. Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck have all previously played Jack Ryan with mixed results. Chris Pine, fine as he is, feels like Matt Damon light, lacking his charm and strong arm.

Keira Knightley adds glamour as Ryan's girlfriend Cathy and Kevin Costner adds gravitas as his CIA handler Harper. But ultimately this feels like a rather old fashioned lukewarm Cold War thriller. Watchable but unremarkable. Jack Ryan has been rebooted into the Post-911 universe but then finds himself back entrenched behind the iron curtain.

Sir Ken Branagh great actor as he is, is yet to make a great film as a director. Next up is Cinderella, let's hope that provides the fairy tale ending.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Cert 12a) is currently on general release.

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.


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