So I’m a huge fan of all the Jack Ryan flicks – I even like the less successful reboot attempts (Sum of All Fears, Shadow Recruit). I think the main reason they didn’t stick was taking a character who’d been so brilliantly portrayed by Harrison Ford and making the character young again – perhaps too young to be believable. It just didn’t seem to ring true, even though there was nothing wrong with the actors’ performances. (Hmm…sounds like Han Solo all over again, doesn’t it?) And yet here we are again, at the beginning of yet another attempt to restart the franchise, this time called Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, with John Krasinski taking his turn at bat.
As the pilot begins, we start with a flashback to 1983 (I’m assuming after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, but they don’t say). Two kids in Yemen goof around while listening to the “Safety Dance.” I like it already. Then Mom comes in and bugs them to get their chores done, and as the kids go up to the roof of their house to feed the chickens, they see a squadron of bombers approaching the nearby town. The town goes up in flames as they drop their loads. Then the bombers head toward them, and the kids disappear in an explosion.
Cut to present day. While most of the world’s struggling just to drag their asses out of bed, Jack Ryan’s already out rowing the Potomac, with an intensity that suggests he’s not just working out. Then he bicycles to work and nearly gets killed twice – first by a guy opening his car door and then by a really angry guy who nearly runs him over. A guy so angry he even stops afterward just to call Jack a sh*thead before peeling off.
But our hero does manage to make it to work alive, and of course ‘work’ for Jack is CIA Headquarters (aka Langley). He does the iconic walk across the agency logo on the floor and rushes to the morning briefing, among the other eggheads and IT geniuses who investigate terror financing around the globe (TFAD). His boss, Gloria (Cristina Umana) dings him for being late, but he gets a sweet hello from colleague Teresa (Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez) across the table. She’s obviously crushing on him hard, but he’s clueless.
Meanwhile, Angry Guy who almost killed Jack sits outside the office of CIA Deputy Director Nathan Singer (Timothy Hutton) like a kid waiting outside the Principal’s office. Turns out Angry Guy is none other than Jim Greer (famously played by James Earl Jones in the Harrison Ford movies, and here by The Wire alum Wendell Pierce). Singer asks how Greer’s “time off” was – but from his salty reaction, we realize that it wasn’t a vacation. He was in the doghouse for something. Greer mutters something about fishing. Singer asks how his wife’s doing, but Greer says he wouldn’t know. They’re getting divorced. Awkward. Singer switches to shop talk, telling Greer what his new job will be – overseeing the terror financing group. Greer’s pissed – it’s a clear demotion from being a Section Chief out in the field. Singer reminds Greer that a lot of the company didn’t want him back at all after Karachi (I’m assuming we’ll find out about that later) and that he’d better not screw up, in not-so-nice language.
Greer stomps into the meeting still going on, gruffly introduces himself as he sits at the head of the table, asking everyone to introduce themselves and their assignments. He recognizes Jack, calling him “Lance Armstrong,” and Jack nervously explains his investigation in Yemen, tracking a bunch of suspicious bank transactions by what could be a new, high-value target. Intel would seem to back up his theory, with a lot of recent chatter going on about someone named Suleiman – meaning “man of peace.” Greer’s not impressed and cuts him off just as Jack’s starting to geek out about a new SQL program he wrote to help streamline database searches. Guess Jack and Greer aren’t going to be fishing buddies anytime soon.
Meanwhile, in Syria, we’re introduced to Suleiman’s family, headed up by his beautiful wife, Hanin (Dina Shihabi). She plays football (soccer to us American types) right along with her kids, but then becomes the iron lady once some of her husband’s shady associates show up looking for him. She takes control of the conversation, and the fact that she speaks to the men without repercussions indicates her status – the guys don’t like her, but they don’t dare mouth off to her. The shady associate lets her know that he’s dropping off a mysterious guest named Dudayev (Goran Kostic). Apparently, Suleiman wants him to stay at his home – something Hanin had no clue about. Dudayev’s polite enough, and Hanin says nothing more about it – but it’s clear she doesn’t like it.
Back in D.C., Jack gets home and settles in for a night of takeout and talking to the TV, showing off more nerd knowledge by answering all the questions on Jeopardy. He gets a phone call from his old boss, Joe Mueller (Victor Slezak), wanting to talk to Jack about something he’d rather not discuss over the phone. He invites Jack to his birthday party at his house, which Jack doesn’t seem too keen on going to – but Joe makes it sound important, so he agrees. Later that night, Jack tries to sleep (Se7en-style with a metronome) but flashbacks of his time in Afghanistan keep him awake. Ugly wounds on his back also tell us he’s been in the sh*t. Since he can’t sleep, Jack decides to go into work and do more digging on Suleiman using his nifty new SQL thing. A montage and many post-it notes later, he’s got something hot – so hot not even a lovely gift of danish and coffee from Teresa can keep Jack from chasing after Greer with his paperwork.
Greer listens as Jack excitedly details a bunch of recent transactions he’s tracked, to an account opened by a Saudi shell company – with a 9 million dollar balance. Jack is positive it’s Suleiman’s money, and asks Greer to issue a demarche to freeze the account. Greer hesitates – not only is Jack’s action risky, but he has that “don’t f*** me” directive from Singer to consider. Greer tells Jack he’s “not there yet,” which floors him – he says twenty years ago, CIA would have loved to have had a chance to act pre-emptively with Bin Laden and prevent the 9/11 attacks. Greer gets his back up at that and orders Jack out of his office – but as soon as he’s left, Greer makes a phone call.
Jack goes around Greer by going to Teresa, who just happens to work for the Treasury Department. He cleverly plays her by saying, “I just hate it when people say, ‘Treasury never does anything.’” That’s all the motivation she needs (that and the fact that her crush is asking) – tappety-tap, click! Done. Demarche issued, account frozen. Even Jack is impressed.
Meanwhile, Hanin gets more concerned about her husband’s new associate as she watches him and other associates loading what looks like explosives into bottles of olive oil they’ve brought in on the trucks. And she gets a terrible feeling when she sees her kids drawing chalk outlines around each other, as they look way too much like crime scene outlines of dead bodies.
CIA calls from the US Embassy in Yemen, asking Greer about that demarche he issued. Furious, Greer hauls Jack into his office to tear him a new one for going behind his back and calling him out for not thinking – saying that if Suleiman actually exists, he’ll panic and scatter, knowing that the company’s onto him now. Jack still insists it was the right thing to do, saying Suleiman wouldn’t just abandon that much money and that an attack is imminent.
Back in Yemen, CIA operative Matice (John Hoogenakker) works with Yemeni Secret Police doing surveillance on a meeting between the manager of the bank where the frozen account was located and two unidentified men. Despite their efforts, they’re unable to record the conversation, so Matice decides to go after the guys after the meeting breaks up. Matice and the Yemeni police approach the guys and tase them, loading them into a van and driving off.
Jack shows up at Joe Mueller’s party, a huge, rich-people’s affair he’s clearly not that comfortable with. Joe finds Jack and tells him he’s starting a new business venture – and he asks Jack for insider info on North Korea. Jack lets him know as nicely as possible that he’s not about to risk his job to help him. Joe drops the classic insult on him, calling him the “self-righteous boy scout” before walking off. As he grabs a beer, a pretty blonde approaches Jack and says, “Way to insult the host.” Jack calls Joe an a**hole just before realizing that he’s talking to Joe’s daughter, Cathy. And just as they’re getting chummy, the Coast Guard flies in and lands on the lawn, looking for Jack – who tries to ask Cathy out just as they’re hauling him off. Cute.
Jack finds Greer waiting for him at the airport. Turns out Jack was right about that account, and CIA in Yemen nabbed a couple of guys they think are couriers. Jack is surprised to learn that Greer ordered the surveillance off Jack’s info. But Greer lays down the law with him, saying, “I don’t know you. I don’t answer to you.” Then he orders Jack onto the waiting jet to Yemen. Jack balks, dropping a downright STAR TREK-sounding line, “I’m an analyst! I don’t interrogate people!” All it needed was the “Dammit, Jim” in front of it.
Greer and Jack meet up with Matice at a CIA Black Ops site in Yemen – and Matice immediately asks Jack for stock tips once he finds out what Jack actually does. Jack is shocked by the state of the place, its slummy conditions and prisoners with no shoes. Greer warns him to “leave your merit badges at the door.” Matice takes them to the two hooded, shoeless couriers, being subjected to audio torture in the form of Toby Keith blasting in their ears. Jack finds out they have a cell phone on them – one connected to the frozen account. Bingo, they’ve got the right guys – but is Suleiman one of them?
Hours of interrogation with the one they think is Suleiman lead nowhere. Jack bails and decides to talk to the other guy instead, ingratiating himself by bringing him food and water. They talk for a while and Jack discovers that the guy is originally from Lebanon. He has burn scars on his hands that he admits he received when he was a boy. Turns out that he and his brother were living in a village that the US bombed in 1983. He received the burn scars pulling his younger brother out from under a burning beam.
Meanwhile, a group of scavengers drive up to the gate outside with some corpses they found in the rubble of a drone attack. The Delta Operators at the gate pay the men for bringing them in, and take the bodies inside to a refrigerated container, to hold them until they can be identified. Unbeknownst to them, one of the corpses is actually not a corpse. As soon as the door’s closed, he sits up and peels off the dead man’s face he used, Hannibal Lecter-style. The man then digs in the body of one of the other corpses, where he’s stashed a rifle.
Jack asks the prisoner he’s talking to if he’s ever heard the name Suleiman before and the guy says it’s a common name. But by this time, it’s pretty obvious that the guy is Suleiman (Ali Suliman), and the lone gunman now prowling the compound is his younger brother. At the same time, the scavenger group returns – they drive one of the trucks right up to the gate and the truck blows up. The scavengers lay siege to the compound, causing a huge, deadly distraction. Inside, Greer and Matice leave the prisoners to get in the fight, leaving Jack alone with Suleiman.
Suleiman’s brother (Haaz Sleiman) then busts in and fights Jack, whose inner Marine comes out and kicks some serious a**. He gets pounded on pretty good in return, but in the end, he gets the upper hand by pulling a grenade on Suleiman and his brother, threatening to blow them all up if they kill him. The brothers stand down and as they slip past, Jack calls Suleiman by his name. They look each other in the eye – they know each other now. They’ll meet again.
As soon as Suleiman and his brother clear the compound wall, the scavengers pull back and drive off, leaving a battered, bloodied Jack watching after them along with Greer. And it’s game on.
What I liked: Krasinski, most importantly. His take on Jack feels much more like Harrison Ford’s while maintaining a slightly edgier feel, that of a guy whose rage and trauma is always bubbling just below the super-nice-guy surface. I also loved the fact that they put a ton of money into the show’s budget – real locations, elaborate action sequences that make the world seem more authentic and more like a studio feature rather than just a TV show.
What I didn’t like: No John Clark. Waaah! He’s one of the best characters in the movies (and from what I understand, he has his own novels too). I mean, I know they couldn’t use the character due to rights issues, and that Matice is basically his replacement, but still. Waah! Another thing I rolled my eyes at was the typically sloppy, Hollywood treatment of the military. Like Delta would ever just take in those corpses without checking them out first – and then abandon high-value prisoners to get into a firefight that’s so clearly meant as a distraction. Yeah, wouldn’t happen in the real world. Then again, in the real world data analysts wouldn’t be the a**-kickers, either.
Overall though, if the pilot is indicative of the rest of the show it I think it bodes well for this reboot being one that actually works. What did you think?