This pa­triot is a shadow of his old self

Jack Ryan: Shadow Re­cruit The Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Ed­die Cock­rell

Na­tional re­lease

(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.

Jack Ryan

Chris Pine and Kevin Cost­ner in

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