JACK RYAN, DECLASSIFIED
Best-selling author Tom Clancy died last October at age 66, but his best-known creation, CIA analyst turned action hero Jack Ryan, continues to cheat death and turn back the clock. He’s young again in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, the Ryan re-boot from Paramount opening January 17. Not based directly on any Clancy novel, the new film stars Chris Pine (STAR TREK, UNSTOPPABLE). Pine and director Kenneth Branagh, who also plays the film’s villain, have been given something of a clean slate to re-imagine Ryan for a new generation of geo-political thrill-seekers.
Pine, 34, who portrayed Captain James T. Kirk in the last two STAR TREK films, has boldly gone where no one but William Shatner has gone before, and as Jack Ryan, he’s following in the footsteps of three more of Hollywood’s best-loved leading men: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. Each put his stamp on the role in four previous films. Unfamiliar with the character? Relax. We’ve prepared a dossier for you.
THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
Jack Ryan first appears in Tom Clancy’s 1984 debut novel, “The Hunt for Red October,” a favorite of President Ronald Reagan in which a Soviet nuclear submarine is headed for the U.S. Before America can respond, the military brain trust must determine whether this is an attack or, as Ryan believes, a defection. Tellingly, Washington Post critic Reid Beddow never even mentions Jack Ryan in his glowing review of the book. The character is overshadowed by Clancy’s propulsive cold war plot and impressive knowledge of arcane submarine and weapons technology.
In the 1990 movie directed by John McTiernan (DIE HARD, PREDATOR), 32-year-old Alec Baldwin’s Ryan made a stronger impression. New York Times film critic Vincent Canby characterized Ryan as “plucky,” and Roger Ebert admired the performance in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Baldwin, as the dogged intelligence officer, has the looks of a leading man, but he dials down his personality,” Ebert wrote. “He presents himself as a deck-bound bureaucrat who can't believe he has actually gotten himself into this field exercise.”
Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers took a more critical view: “Clancy's vision of simon-pure American heroes fighting the sneaky red devils occupies the same simplistic realm as John Wayne Westerns and James Bond capers…Baldwin, as CIA analyst Jack Ryan, has it worse. Ryan is a bookish ex-marine with a fear of flying… the HUNT screenplay paints him in lightweight terms as the all-purpose hero.”
Perhaps the signature moment in Baldwin’s portrayal of Ryan occurs early in the film, when the analyst, summoned to a White House briefing by his mentor, Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) realizes what the soviet submarine captain Ramius (Sean Connery) is up to and disrupts the meeting with an outburst. The moment paints Ryan as brilliant yet immature and utterly heedless of bureaucratic considerations.
Harrison Ford turned 50 the year PATRIOT GAMES (1992) was released. The second Ryan film, directed by Australian Philip Noyce (DEAD CALM) emphasized the character’s home life, including his wife, Dr. Cathy Ryan, an ophthalmic surgeon played by Anne Archer (Gates McFadden did the honors in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER) and daughter Sally – both threatened by IRA terrorists.
The nation’s film critics embraced the more mature character. “Unlike the heartier HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER…PATRIOT GAMES takes a pensive, moody view of the intrigue in which Jack becomes embroiled,” wrote Janet Maslin in The New York Times. “Mr. Ford's restrained performance is just right for this chilly atmosphere, and he even brings some earnestness to the happy-family scenes…. He makes a more plausible Jack Ryan than Alec Baldwin did in the earlier film, partly because this screenplay (by W. Peter Iliff and Donald Stewart) is less obsessed with technical jargon and high-tech toys.”
Roger Ebert gave PATRIOT GAMES a thumbs-up: “Ryan is played by Harrison Ford with just the right note: Man of action with a cerebral side… Harrison Ford once again demonstrates what a solid, convincing actor he is…” Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman termed Ryan a “renegade. Harrison Ford’s Jack is stalwart and playful, a father-figure James Bond…The iconic perfection of the Ryans is meant to give the story its emotional kick. Jack isn’t just saving loved ones – why, he’s preserving a way of life! He rejoins the CIA, only now he’s suffused with the righteous anger of a vigilante.”
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
Ford reprised the role in 1994 for Ryan’s next adventure, which involved a clandestine U.S. war against a Columbian drug cartel. This time, the one seeking vigilante justice is the dissembling President of the United States played by Donald Moffat. But Ryan, now deputy director of the CIA, still has plenty to feel righteously angry about. He finds himself undermined by corrupt politicians at home and under fire in the field where he teams with CIA operative John Clark (Willem Dafoe) to rescue imprisoned American soldiers who have been abandoned by their government. Clark, the Bond/Bourne yin to Ryan’s scholarly yang, would turn up in the next Ryan film played by Liev Schreiber.
“As directed by Philip Noyce, who also did PATRIOT GAMES,” wrote Janet Maslin, “this becomes another fast, gripping spy story with some good tricks up its sleeve… Harrison Ford, making only his second screen appearance as Mr. Clancy's heroic CIA agent, Jack Ryan, has already become Old Faithful in this role. Mr. Ford may be the most reticent of American movie stars, but he brings considerable subtlety to the job of humanizing Jack Ryan. In a film that opens with the sight of a waving American flag, subtlety may not be foremost on anyone's mind. But Mr. Ford's wary intelligence does wonders for a potentially one-dimensional character.”
Lisa Schwartzbaum saw Ryan through his wife’s eyes in her Entertainment Weekly review: “Anne Archer – once again playing the supportive-but-damn-successful-in-her-own-career wife of Clancy's recurring hero…gets to say, 'Be careful!’ As everyone who saw the previous Ryan yarn knows, this is the universal signal that Jack, a paragon of low-keyed integrity, is about to leave on yet another insanely dangerous mission.”
“Harrison Ford is in peak form in CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER,” wrote Peter Travers, jumping on the bandwagon in Rolling Stone. “There are lots of explosions when Ryan visits Colombia, but the film's tensest and funniest scene is Ryan's raid on [presidential aide] Ritter's computer. Ryan is furious at being deceived. ‘It's the old Potomac two-step,’ says the prez. ‘I don't dance,’ says Ryan.”
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS
Ben Affleck (ARGO, GOOD WILL HUNTING), then 32, had a tougher time of it with the critics when he played an even younger Jack Ryan in THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002). The plot features a Russian splinter group that nukes a football game in Ryan’s hometown of Baltimore. The critics bombed Affleck’s performance in much the same way.
“THE SUM OF ALL FEARS resurrects Jack Ryan, the hero of earlier Clancy novels who over the course of those books ascended from a young CIA analyst to the agency's directorship and finally to the American presidency,” wrote Stephen Holden in The New York Times. “Although the film's setting is contemporary, Jack (Ben Affleck) is now a miraculously young 28-year-old scholar who has just joined the agency…The choice of Mr. Affleck… is not a happy one.” Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian piled on, describing the film as “a kind of detonator-plus-nuclear-device combo which performs like a neutron bomb, boring the people in the audience to death but leaving the actual cinema and surrounding buildings standing… “
Of course, Affleck had the last laugh. A decade after those reviews came out, in his subsequent CIA assignment as Tony Mendez, the ex-filtration specialist in ARGO (2012), the producer/director/actor proved there is life after Ryan when his movie won the Oscar® for Best Picture.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT
The new Ryan film centers on a Russian plot to destroy the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack. This time, Ryan’s wife is played by Keira Knightley, who, in a break from Clancy tradition, travels to Moscow to get in the thick of the action with her husband rather than fretting about him from the sidelines as a symbol of the home front.
“You’re not just an analyst any more, Jack, you’re operational,” says William Harper, CIA (Kevin Costner) to Ryan, proving once again that the more things change, the more they stay the same. That leap from desk jockey to action hero has always defined Jack Ryan and it’s likely to be the standard by which Chris Pine’s performance is judged when JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is released nationwide.