By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 15, 2014 at 6:03AM
I like Chris Pine. He's a strong actor and a movie star--although his reboot of Tom Clancy's signature spy is going to be a test of his marquee value. It's one thing to join the "Star Trek" ensemble and another to carry a movie. The actors in Paramount's latest Jack Ryan foray are fine, from Kevin Costner as Ryan's CIA mentor/recruiter to Keira Knightley as the fetching fiancé in scrubs who wonders if he's lying to her.
Branagh was willing to embrace this emphatically retro Cold War thriller. At the LA County Museum Q & A by Elvis Mitchell, he admitted that he went back to John LeCarré's classic "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" and such 70s thrillers as "The Parallax View," "Three Days of the Condor," "The French Connection," and "Dog Day Afternoon" for inspiration.
The movie looks and sounds great, shot mostly on 35mm, as Branagh makes the most of exotic Moscow locations. But this mainstream picture, while competently enjoyable, can't beat your everyday episode of "Alias," "The Americans" or "Homeland." That's where the fault lies--not in the stars but in the script.
Branagh has become a go-to director thanks to "Thor" and his brilliant casting of Tom Hiddleston as Loki (who's currently doing Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" on stage). Branagh, who recently filmed "Cinderella" for Disney, came aboard this long-stalled Paramount reboot after Pine was attached.
"I liked the opportunity to watch him thinking, like 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,'" said Branagh. "I was inspired by early mid-70s American cinema, drained of color, bleached and grainy. We were trying to go for the classical DNA of the Clancy universe where the novels came from, the Cold War era, facing off again the old enemies Russia and America. Visually its blues and more colors on the Russian side. We were trying to create striking simple contrasts between the old empire and the new, the older man and younger man, the cultural differences."
In reimagining the Ryan origin story, Branagh hung onto Clancy's brainy analyst who is a superficially ordinary dull guy thrown into the deep end of the pool, who keeps his head under pressure. "There's a coming of age element, with the acquisition of wisdom and loss of innocence," he says. "Jack Ryan has a crossover moment, as the rougher diamond or innocent has to decide what they're prepared to do, what compromises they will make. Jack Ryan lies and holds secrets which become touching points on the journey between a youthful innocent view of the world and the effects of experience."
Ryan characterizes a "kind of modest suburban life," says Branagh, "but he has a throbbing brilliant sharp analytical mind. He has decency, moral principles in a non-priggish not self-conscious life. He'll hang in there in a difficult situation. Look at how he reacts, alone on a roof top having killed a man, his attitude to having killed someone. It's scary and messy, not enobling, now he's alone and needs help and has a decision to make about what to do. Chris's vulnerability is very winning, it's part of the everyman good guy who in this terrible situation could step by step do the right thing. He's able, quick-witted and intelligent at putting stuff together. Ordinary and extraordinary coexist in Jack Ryan. It's an interesting chemical imbalance from Mr. Clancy."
Thor and Ryan are both stories dealing with fathers and sons. "Thor is reaching a kind of maturity or adulthood, which need not mean giving away all things spontaneous, anarchic and fun. It's about finding the way to negotiate the gravity that comes your way when you experience loss or sacrifice as part of the growing up process. How do you do that and keep the child alive inside you?"