Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Director: Kenneth Branagh (2014)

This insipid reboot of Tom Clancy’s CIA agent Jack Ryan is the character’s fifth big screen outing – and the least entertaining.

It squanders its acting talent, glossy design and glamorous locations on a dated plot, weak script and limp action sequences.

Lacking the self-knowing ridiculousness that makes the Mission Impossible films so much fun, it resorts to stealing its best (only?) joke from Indiana Jones and the finale of a Batman movie.

Chris Pine plays Ryan, a US marine turned top analyst. He’s commissioned by a CIA division so secret the movie can’t even be bothered to invent a name for it.

Pine has one excellent scene as a boorish drunk but isn’t allowed the swagger that made his Captain Kirk so entertaining. Kenneth Branagh plays the menacing Russian agent Viktor Cherevin and smuggles in some welcome acting subtlety.

Ryan is sent undercover to Moscow where he forgets his training at the first opportunity and is left huddling at night on the cold streets. Luckily, incompetent CIA chief Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) – his first kill was an innocent bystander – rocks up with a van full of surveillance gear to help out.

Then Ryan’s civilian fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) jets in to check on his suspected infidelity and immediately mucks in with the assignment.

She’s a natural at the espionage game and even helps out Ryan with some analysis – his best talent, don’t forget – and loyally doesn’t take any credit. Clearly the CIA have employed the wrong man, er, woman.

Mind you, the Russians are no better. Their not-so-dastardly two-pronged plot involves creating a huge economic depression – as if anyone would notice these days – and blowing up some Wall Street banks, which may not cause the outrage among the western world they anticipate.


The Imitation Game

Director: Morten Tyldum (2014)

Get quizzical with Benedict Cumberbatch in this compelling wartime thriller about real-life code-breakers.

The star of TV’s Sherlock puts in an Oscar worthy performance as Alan Turing; cryptologist, mathematician and inventor of the world’s first computer.

It unlocked the Nazi‘s Enigma code machine and so helped win the second world war – but he was later prosecuted for being gay.

A cleverly constructed narrative switches between between his arrest in 1951, unhappy schooldays and successful war years.

In 1941 he is recruited by MI6 spook  Major General Menzies (a scene-stealing Mark Strong) and placed under the sceptical Commander Denniston (wonderfully caustic Charles Dance).

Although prodigiously brilliant, Turing’s lack of social graces annoys everyone but Joan, the only female team member played by a winning Keira Knightley.

In a laboratory in Bletchely Park they try to decipher German communications before the daily code is changed.

There are over 159 million million possible combinations and every seconds delay means more Allied deaths.

So starts to Turing build his computer, an astonishing room-sized contraption of wires, wheels and whirligigs.

He nicknames it Christopher after a schoolfriend, a perfect name for anything super-intelligent but he’s unable make it work quickly enough.

Denniston wants to close the laboratory down and the paranoid atmosphere is heightened by the possible presence of a spy.

Being a British affair, the terrifically moving moment of eureka happens in the pub.

Despite saving an estimated 14 million lives and shortening the war by two years, his work is classified top secret.

So no-one is aware of his work when he is later tried and punished for indecent behaviour.

This excellent film is an insufficient legacy to a genius and British hero – but it’s a damn fine place to start.