JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT. It's been 24 years since novelist Tom Clancy's hero Jack Ryan debuted on the big screen with young Alec Baldwin in the cold war submarine thriller The Hunt for Red October. Harrison Ford's iconic portrayals in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger gave way to a wobbly Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears, and now the torch/briefcase is passed to Chris Pine (also firmly franchised as the new Captain Kirk), whose Ryan must foil a Russian plot to thrust the United States into a depression. If you can roll with the shift in casting and the prequel's do-over timeline, Shadow Recruit keeps the fun and the action of the franchise alive.
The film starts slowly, with grad student Ryan abandoning his dissertation at the London School of Economics to join the Marines after 9/11. A chopper crash in Afghanistan lands him in rehab, where he's coached back to fighting shape by future wife Cathy (a shockingly American Keira Knightley) and recruited into the CIA by his stoic mentor Harper (Kevin Costner). Ryan's covert duties quickly evolve from analyzing financial data to hopping a flight to Moscow for gunplay, high-tech B 'n' E and car chases with creepily focused villain Viktor Cherevin, played by director Kenneth Branagh.
Shadow Recruit is, despite its high-rise and high-finance backdrop, an old-fashioned spy thriller. Branagh and his cast are tasked with making data mining exciting, and making trading as sinister as pulling a grenade pin, which they manage with lots of handheld camerawork and Branagh's glowering mug. But Ryan isn't chained to his laptop, and once people start shooting at him in Moscow, the movie picks up speed. Sure, sifting through files while the bad guys approach has been done, but it's great fun, as are the car chases against the backdrop of onion domes and downtown New York. Special effects take a backseat to good choreography of messy fighting, and the CIA's most impressive caper is the swift cleaning of a trashed hotel room. Putting bird-boned Knightley in the sallow clutches of the villain isn't a new trick either (though energy-efficient light bulbs are newly terrifying), but Ryan isn't exactly a new hero.
Jack Ryan is America's James Bond, with a revolving cast of actors keeping him ageless as he battles the enemy of the moment — in this case, the two-headed beast of terrorism and market manipulation. While Bond embodies the British stiff upper lip, style and loyalty to the crown, Ryan's modest heroism, wholesome devotion to his girl and nonpartisan patriotism suit American ideals. As Ryan says early on, we aren't supposed to like the CIA, what with all the waterboarding and such. But Pine, who doesn't look like much of a movie star with his bushy brows and knobby features, is easy to root for. He wisely takes a page from Harrison Ford's playbook and lets Ryan's panic and pain come through. These days, who can trust a CIA agent whose hands aren't shaking a little? PG13. 105m.
I, FRANKENSTEIN. Come on. If Abraham Lincoln can hunt vampires, Frankenstein's monster can battle gargoyles and demons. Right? With attractively scarred Aaron Eckhart and Bill Nighy in a graphic novel adaptation. PG13. 93m.
12 YEARS A SLAVE. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a free-born American sold into slavery in this crushing period piece based on a true story. With a sinister Michael Fassbender. R. 134m.
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES. Will Ferrell and his street-fighting news team keep it classy and skewer info-tainment. Goofy fun that's mustache and shoulder pads above the competition. PG13. 119m.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. Julia Roberts scraps with her pill-popping mother Meryl Streep in the screen adaptation of Tracy Letts' play about a dysfunctional Midwestern family. R. 121m.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. Matthew McConaughey sacrifices his abs and gives a top-notch performance as an ailing, HIV-positive bull rider who smuggles treatment drugs. With Jared Leto. R. 117m.
DEVIL'S DUE. The honeymoon is over when a young couple finds themselves pregnant with demon spawn. R. 89m.
FROZEN. Kristen Bell voices a girl who braves the snow to save the kingdom from her sister's frosty spell. Standard Disney Princess fun with a Josh Gad as a slapsticky snowman. PG. 108m
GRAVITY. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are adrift in space. It's the best of sci-fi with a real human story. PG13. 90m.
HER. What if HAL crossed with Siri and sounded, you know, hot? Joaquin Phoenix is an introverted writer who falls in love with his upgrade. Like the relationship, it feels surprisingly real. R. 126m.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Impressive beards and exciting action as Bilbo and the dwarves go after a treasure-hoarding dragon. Director Peter Jackson ups his game with this sequel. PG13. 161m.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. The Brothers Coen tour the folk scene in 1961 Greenwich Village through the eyes of a less than likeable, struggling singer. More impressive than entertaining.R. 105m.
THE LEGEND OF HERCULES. Twilight alum Kellan Lutz gets a tan and hits the gym for a fantasy origin story of the demigod hero. PG13. 99m.
LONE SURVIVOR. A Navy SEAL team mission in Afghanistan goes sideways leaving Mark Wahlberg and Emile Hirsch between the rocks and the Taliban. Gripping and heartbreaking. R. 121m.
NEBRASKA. Gin-blossomed Bruce Dern hits the road with his estranged and skeptical son in pursuit of supposed sweepstakes winnings. Finely done. R. 115m.
THE NUT JOB. An urban squirrel voiced by Will Arnett attempts to rip off a nut store. With Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson and Katherine Heigl. PG. 86m.
RIDE ALONG. Ice Cube is a scowling cop with plans to terrify his sister's mouthy fiancé, Kevin Hart, by taking him on patrol. R. 89m.
SAVING MR. BANKS. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson bring engaging characters and affecting drama to what might have been merely Disney propaganda. PG13. 125m.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. A raucous cautionary tale of greed, girls and schadenfreude with Leonardo DiCaprio as double-breasted douchebag Jordan Belfort, a self-made '80s stock tycoon who runs afoul of the Feds. R. 180m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill