Monday, August 27, 2018

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

In the books, Tom Clancy’s signature hero served as National Security Advisor, Vice President, and President for two non-consecutive terms. Maybe he will do so again, but for the present time, he has been rebooted back to his original government gig: CIA analyst (not including his prior military service). Of course, he always had an unlikely knack for getting out from behind his desk and into the field. Regardless of his job, he always has the same mission—to protect America from its foreign enemies. The titular character will do his duty in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (trailer here), which premieres this Friday on Amazon Prime.

Ryan has the Yemen desk at the CIA. It is not so hot in terms of prestige, but there is plenty of suspicious activity to track. Ryan has uncovered a pattern of sophisticated money transfers that seem to suggest a rumored new jihadist player is planning something big and horrific. Unfortunately, his new section chief James Greer is in full CYA mode after being cashiered back to Langley due a career-derailing kerfuffle in Pakistan. Needless to say, Greer is not pleased when Ryan does an end-run around him with the Treasury liaison, but it gets the ball rolling.

Soon, Ryan and Greer are jet-setting to France and Turkey in pursuit of the elusive “Sulieman.” When he has a spare moment, Ryan does his best to romance Dr. Cathy Mueller, whose infectious disease specialty might just come in handy later. They might just have a future together, whereas Sulieman’s terrified wife Hanin is desperate to escape with her children. There is also a bit of business with a remorseful drone operator that so far represents a momentum-killer for the series, based on the six episodes provided to the media. Clancy would have just told him to cowboy up, as does his infinitely more telegenic partner.

Showrunner-executive producers Carlton Cruse & Graham Roland deserve credit for some realistic and unvarnished depictions of terrorism on-screen. There is one particular attack in Paris that shows very little graphic carnage, but still manages to be absolutely shocking. Of course, they bend over backwards to provide counter-balancing Muslim characters, which even include the hard-charging Greer. It is more convincing in the case of Hanin, who is indeed a character who reflects reality for some many women in the Islamist world.

Frankly, U.S.-based Saudi actress Dina Shihabi deserves even more credit for her portrayal of Hanin, which is quite brave for multiple reasons. She is all kinds of fierce and vulnerable, so she should be the heroic feminist TV figure of the year. John Krasinski is actually quite a strong Jack Ryan (immeasurably superior to Affleck and Pine). Proving 13 Hours was not a fluke, he projects the right balance of everyman integrity and the rough-and-ready bearing of a combat veteran.

Wendell Pierce brings plenty of hardnosed attitude as Greer, while a surprisingly old-looking Tim Hutton shows a weaselly side we haven’t seen before as CIA bureaucrat Nathan Singer. In six episodes, Abbie Cornish does not get much to do besides eat Maryland crabs and send a couple fateful Ebola emails. Perhaps the weak link is Ali Suliman’s Sulieman, who is just sort of blandly sinister, like a garden variety terrorist from 24. (The attempts to blame his radicalization on French bigotry might be counter-productive, in this respect.)

Still, Cuse and Roland keep the stakes high, while Krasinski and Shihabi maintain viewers’ rooting interest. The characterization is mostly quite strong (in fact, the death of one unmentioned recurring character really stings) and the action scenes are energetically staged. Clancy probably would have wanted to tinker with it a little, but it will still exceed his fans’ expectations. Recommended pretty enthusiastically (again based on six episodes, a pretty fair sampling), Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan premieres on Amazon Prime this Friday (8/31).