This patriot is a shadow of his old self
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit The Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza)
(M) ★✩✩✩✩ (MA15+) ★★★★ Limited release
WHEN Tom Clancy created the character of Jack Ryan for the 1987 novel Patriot Games, the first in a series of nine books, it was a fresh conceit: here was a former marine, injured in a helicopter crash, who subsequently makes his fortune on Wall Street, teaches history at the US Naval Academy, becomes a somewhat reluctant but successful and incredibly lucky CIA operative and, eventually, the US president.
Four actors have played Ryan in the Paramount Pictures franchise to date. Alec Baldwin was OK in 1990’s The Hunt for Red October, but it is Harrison Ford who epitomises Ryan’s mixture of reluctance and fortitude in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994) — both of which were ably directed by Phillip Noyce. Wanting a reboot eight years later, the studio cast the adequate Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears, which garnered mixed reviews.
Twelve years on, the studio has returned to the well with the loud, glossy and entirely unnecessary Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. This time it’s the good looking, non-threatening Chris Pine as the intrepid operative.
The first reels of the film do a capable job charting Ryan’s formative years, though trouble looms as the story alters the circumstances surrounding the first meeting of Ryan and his future wife Cathy (Keira Knightley).
While on Wall Street and working undercover for the CIA, Ryan discovers a plot to collapse the US dollar and ruin the American economy that is being controlled from Russia by charming but ruthless rogue oligarch Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directs with a heavy hand). So Ryan is sent undercover to Moscow (filmed in Liverpool, of all places) in a bid to thwart the threat. He is shadowed by his handler, Harper (a worldweary Kevin Costner), and is soon joined by Cathy, who is sucked into the intrigue.
In attempting to update the Ryan universe to the present day — ‘‘ Facebook! Reddit!’’ he yells at one point — long-time franchise producer Mace Neufeld and the legions of screenwriters have made a glaring error. By abandoning the source novels and their well thought out storylines, they’ve consigned themselves to the post-Jason Bourne wilderness of protagonists who are brainy, besieged men of action pitted against an enemy designed to offer minimal offence to a nationality or culture.
They also misunderstand what Jack Ryan means. A conservative Republican, Clancy saw his character as a man of dogged and deeply patriotic duty; at one point in Shadow Recruit, Ryan complains to Harper, ‘‘ you sold this as an office job’’. The gulf between conception and execution could not be wider.
Clancy died on October 1 last year. The first poster for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was released the very next day. The torch has passed, but the flame has gone out. THE revelation that Liverpool could be credibly transformed into Moscow reminds how well the world’s great cities lend themselves to film. Rome, of course, is remembered as the playground for pulp journalist Marcello Mastroianni’s epic debauchery in Federico Fellini’s 1960 touchstone La Dolce Vita, which is, among many other things, an incisive commentary on social decay and moral rot set within that city.
The Italian director and writer Paolo Sorrentino clarifies in interviews that his acclaimed new film, the lurid, acerbic, seductive and magnificent social comedydrama The Great Beauty, is not a reboot of that film, but the visualisation of what he told one journalist is ‘‘ a sensation I can feel right now in Rome, the sense that life is futile, that you can’t find a real sense of purpose’’.
But you can have fleeting fun in the pursuit. After an eccentrically inscrutable prologue that finds tourists and locals watching the noontime cannon blast on the Janiculum hill and wandering among the Risorgimento monuments, nightfall brings a chaotic, propulsive and brilliantly photographed 65th birthday party for jaded society journalist Jep Gambardella (the incomparable Toni Servillo) on the outdoor patio of his flat across the street from the Colosseum.
He wrote a well-received novel many years ago but now coasts on what’s left of his reputation, surrounding himself with friends and colleagues, equally jaded grotesques all, comfortable in their dissolute torpor.
The revelation that his recently deceased first love carried a hidden torch for him her entire life reawakens his intellectual curiosity, but it’s far from certain he can rise from the creative doldrums. Sorrentino has mastered the delicate balancing act between scabrous comedy and honest human pathos, and Servillo’s Jep is both disdainful and scared as he makes the nocturnal rounds.
In the end, however, Sorrentino’s stance is one of optimism. As severe as the rot is, Rome itself will survive, forever the Eternal City.
The film floats to our shores on the winds of acclaim, having already collected 15 international awards to date, including the European Film Award and a Golden Globe for best foreign language film. It is also Italy’s submission to the Academy Awards.
Beyond the praise, this is an experience to cherish. ‘‘ He adored New York City,’’ Allen’s narrator says at the beginning of Manhattan. ‘‘ He idolised it all out of proportion.’’ The same may be said of Rome, and it will certainly be the reaction of many to The Great Beauty.
Chris Pine and Kevin Costner in