Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Amazon Prime Video;
Action;
Stars John Krasinski, Abbie Cornish, Wendell Pierce, Ali Suliman, Dina Shihabi, Timothy Hutton.

Despite being one of Tom Clancy’s most enduring literary characters, including a stint as president of the United States, Jack Ryan’s cinematic exploits have not been so consistent.

Sure, adapting the books have led to a handful of entertaining espionage thrillers, all the while producers seem intent on making Jack less of the analyst he is in the books and more of a hands-on, American James Bond type of secret agent. And after a few films that seemed to follow the progression of the novels, the film series veered into prequel territory, exploring Jack’s early years with the CIA.

The most-recent film, 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, wasn’t even based on one of the novels, looking in on Jack in one of his first big cases for the CIA and his rise to action-hero status. However, its lackluster box office performance cast further doubt on the future of more Jack Ryan adventures on the big screen.

Instead, the character’s handlers took the “Hannibal” route by putting the character at the center of a television series, where the story could be given a chance to develop at a reasonable pace.

The show, as with Shadow Recruit before it, focuses on the younger Jack Ryan, adjusting to a career in the CIA after an injury-shortened military career. And like that film, it’s not specifically based on any of the novels, though it seems to borrow a few elements from them, most notably Executive Orders.

Here, Jack is an analyst for a secret CIA division tracking terrorists’ finances. He believes that a new power in Islamic extremism is about to make a major move, but his evidence is sketchy and no one wants to believe him until he forces the issue by convincing the authorities to freeze the suspects’ bank accounts, thus setting off a sequence of events that exposes a new terrorist faction led by a sheik named Suleiman who wants revenge on the West for the death of his family during military strikes when he was a boy.

One key to the effectiveness of the series is the casting of John Krasinski as Jack Ryan, grounding the character as an analyst and unlikely field operative, as opposed to the films that tend to want to cast action-hero types in the part. Krasinski’s presence lends credence to both the idea that Jack could be in over his head but that, over time, he can become more adept at field work.

The show takes its time to get going as is establishes all its main characters, their motivations and locales in great detail, which can be a bit of a chore for the audience at first when the show shifts so much of its time away from what Jack is up to. One of the subplots involves Suleiman’s wife, who begins to fear the man her husband has revealed himself to be and takes steps to protect herself and her kids from his actions.

The show also spends time with Jack’s courtship of his future wife, Kathy, now played by Abbie Cornish, who is wary of their potential relationship since he keeps spouting an unconvincing cover story about a mundane State Department job to explain why he keeps getting whisked away in helicopters to travel to the Middle East and returns with fresh stab wounds.

Aside from its slow pacing in the early episodes, the biggest mark against the show is the way it relies on operational sloppiness on the part of its law enforcement contingent to allow key bad guys to keep getting away so they can carry out their plans. It would be one thing if the show were trying to depict inter-agency rivalries, a la The Looming Tower, but that’s not the case here, and the plot contrivances that do pop up are so obvious as to be distracting.

The eight-episode series also attempts to take a thoughtful examination of many different angles of the War on Terror. While noble in its intent, it does result in a few subplots that don’t seem to lead anywhere, most notably with a U.S. drone pilot who feels guilty over killing enemy combatants from 10,000 miles away.

Eventually, though, the storylines converge in a satisfying way that raises the stakes for Jack both personally and professionally, and should leave viewers eagerly awaiting the upcoming second season.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Fox;
Drama;
Box Office $53.35 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references.
Stars Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Zeljko Ivanek, Caleb Landry Jones, Kerry Condon, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Amanda Warren, Clarke Peters.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards offers an intense, character-driven examination of the relationship between small-town police and the residents they serve.

Frances McDormand gives a powerhouse performance as Mildred, whose bitterness over the stalled investigation into her daughter’s murder motivates her to rent space on the billboards of the title excoriating the cops for their lack of progress.

This naturally raises tensions in the town, as supporters of the police demand she take the signs down while putting pressure on her friends and family to force her hand.

The police chief (Woody Harrelson), has his own issues to deal with, not the least of which is an alcoholic deputy named Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who is accused of torturing a black suspect in custody during an incident that allegedly happened before the start of the film’s story.

Three Billboards takes a multi-faceted view of cops’ racial attitudes in small-town America, and presents them as people and not as the caricatures some knee-jerk critics of the film would insist upon. Certainly the department must confront its troubled history of race relations, but the situation with Mildred might suggest they’re not great cops in general, or at the very least in over their head on some things.

Dixon, for example, has bigger dreams but little self-awareness, and his racism goes hand in hand with a general attitude of superiority about everyone, no doubt fueled by the toxic influences of his mother. His violent streak even extends to the white kid who sold the signs to Mildred and becomes the subject of a brutal beating in one of the film’s signature sequences — a single take of Dixon walking from the police station across the street to the advertising shop, up the stairs and back to admire the chaos of his handiwork.

Mildred and Dixon represent the opposing forces in the firestorm at the heart of the film, so it comes as little surprise that McDormand and Rockwell were among the most recognized performers of awards season.

The Blu-ray includes five deleted scenes running about seven minutes total that aren’t vital to the storylines but do offer some interesting additional character insights.

Also included is a comprehensive half-hour behind-the-scenes documentary in which McDonagh relates how seeing similar billboards on a tour of the American South inspired him to make the film. The featurette also includes a lengthy look at the making-of the single-take fight scene at the center of the film.

Finally, the disc offers McDonagh’s unrelated half-hour 2004 short film Six Shooter, which won the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short. The short stars Brendan Gleeson as a man on a train confronted with mortality and the foibles of the human condition.