Keira Knightley in Shadow Recruit

Whether or not Keira Knightley wins the Academy Award this year for her role as a World War II codebreaker opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game (which we reviewed previously at borg.com here) we’re confident she will have one or more Oscars on the shelf years from now.  She was one of our picks in our Best of 2014 review.  A lead actress who could pull off any role, she seems to opt for more quirky and challenging roles.  These include her role as a bounty hunter in Domino, but also classic costume drama parts, like Lara in the remake of Doctor Zhivago, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, and an against-type Guinevere in King Arthur, genre roles like Padme’s double in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, a withering-away clone in the disturbing sci-fi drama Never Let Me Go, or Disney franchise star in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Last year Knightley also co-starred in a major studio release, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, as the future Mrs. Jack Ryan opposite Chris Pine, holding her own with the likes of Academy Award winners Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh.  The first expansion film of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan stories, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is now out on DVD, Blu-ray and On Demand.

Jack Ryan Chris Pine

As Cathy Muller, a role previously played by Gates McFadden, Anne Archer, and Bridget Moynihan, she’s the first actress to take the part beyond emotional support stalwart for Jack.  In a franchise full of large, in your-face-drama: a nuclear sub about to explode in The Hunt for Red October, battling terrorists in Patriot Games or drug kingpins in Clear and Present Danger, and a dirty bomb smuggled into the country taking out an entire city in Sum of All Fears, it’s a big surprise that Shadow Recruit’s big event is tied to a discovery in forensic accounting by Ryan, leading to a potential economic crisis and small scale bombing.  Yet unlike A Good Day to Die Hard, a sequel using a similar plot (proving that once popular franchise is too tired to continue), the prospect of a young couple working together within Ryan’s secret CIA world in Clancy’s universe of global espionage is a bit refreshing.  And Knightley is probably the highlight of the film.

Branagh directed Shadow Recruit and also stars as the film’s villain, the wealthy Russian financier Viktor Cherevin.  If there’s a failing in the film, it’s the risk that comes along whenever a director directs himself.  Branagh underplays the role of his villain and this causes the film to come off as slow and quiet when it needs something closer to Javier Bardem’s loud and quirky villain in the last James Bond movie, Skyfall.

Knightley and Pine in Shadow Recruit

Still, there is much to like in Shadow Recruit.  Pine and Knightley have real chemistry.  Pine’s relationship with an operative-mentor played by Kevin Costner mirrors the recurring framework Tom Cruise perfected over his first two decades in film as hero in training.  Pine seems to on a similar path opposite Bruce Greenwood in the Star Trek films, and opposite Denzel Washington in Unstoppable.  And Costner offers the performance of a seasoned veteran in a role fit for Paul Newman, his best role since Open Range.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a fine addition to the Jack Ryan film franchise, and hopefully a springboard for future films in the series with Pine and Knightley.

 

 

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