“There is no version of this job that doesn’t require compromise.”
Amazon’s Jack Ryan, the new Prime Video original that premieres on August 31st, is all about the chase. There’s a cat and mouse game at play in its every moment, be it through chasing down leads on suspicious bank transfers, trying to find answers and the people that carry them, and the chase of obsession, the need to do something good. The first season is a strong showing for creators Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, and one that takes its story and characters down a path where beliefs will be challenged, and what they hold dear is at cost.
Jack Ryan is a character who first appeared in author Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, the 1984 novel that began Clancy’s career and a whole host of sequels and adaptations. He has been previously portrayed in film by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine, and here, in Amazon’s series, it is John Krasinski.
Krasinski makes a pretty good Jack Ryan. Krasinski is a whip-smart and to a fault dedicated Ryan who cares deeply about the mission. It can be a physical performance, both in and out of action, where his emotions are on his sleeve through what he sees during the events of the series and how that shapes him. Starting from an analyst position and balancing this with field work and a new personal relationship gives Ryan a lot on his plate, and Krasinski plays the character with charisma and devotion. The show smartly plays Ryan as both genius in one moment and naive in another, ready with information or something to solve, but not quite ready with the intricate methods of the field. However, he can, at times, feel more like a plot device than a character, figuring out the thing that leads to the other thing.
Wendell Pierce plays James Greer, Ryan’s boss. He is none too happy about his new position and sees Ryan as more of a hotshot nuisance than an asset. Pierce is always great in every role he plays (notably HBO’s The Wire and Treme, among many others), here playing a fed up and sarcastic, but still immensely dedicated, foil to our hero. I really liked the trajectory his character was given, as it provides Pierce with some quite good moments (especially in the sixth episode, “Sources and Methods”).
Abbie Cornish plays Cathy Muller, the love interest for Jack Ryan and an accomplished doctor in infectious diseases. Cornish, while not involved in a whole lot of the plot, does manage to bring some much-needed levity, as the chemistry between herself and Krasinski in their scenes is deployed at just the right times.
While Jack Ryan may start to teeter on Homeland and 24 trappings, showing the personal lives of the hunted and giving them a sympathetic view, it does so with more depth beyond their mission or beliefs. It’s used in a way that worked for me, as it’s all about the execution. But it does come at the cost of Jack Ryan the character sometimes feeling a little sidelined in his own show. There are times when the show holds back on Ryan and the investigation, giving a sizeable portion over to Suleiman and his family. This isn’t a disadvantage or disappointment, however, as Ali Suliman as Mousa Suleiman is a powerful screen presence and always fascinating to watch, playing a demanding and complex character with an uncharacteristic kindness that shows in this vein have long struggled with supplying. There can be some disappointment of yet again portraying certain cultures as terrorists, but there is enough nuance and care put into their story and characters that there is at least something more than just that, especially with the inclusion of Dina Shihabi as Hanin, Suleiman’s wife, and where her character goes in the progression of the story.
The cat and mouse game in Jack Ryan provides a lot of globe hopping in its story, providing Syria, France, and Turkey as a few of its backdrops. Every location has a unique look, and some story elements feel ripped from the headlines over the past few years. This could easily become stale or break the illusion, but I found it to be rather compelling, always working for me. It’s also a looker, with some absolutely gorgeous shots and sweeping action sequences.
The show builds and becomes stronger as it continues, delivering some well-shot and well-executed sequences that elevate everything built to that moment. It’s like a well-told thriller novel, taking its methodical elements and combining them into a pulse-pounding third act. The action is used sparingly and effectively, never quite turning this show into an action series but providing it as tension releases after the thriller build-up reaches a crescendo.
Jack Ryan is the kind of show that takes the tried and true form of the action thriller and updates it into its own form. The bones of similar shows can still be seen, but the production, the actors, and the writing keep it at a pace that really excited me and kept it from being more of the same. It’s the kind of show that will make you want to watch it all in one go, wanting to see what happens next. Cuse and Roland have created a series that takes on the Tom Clancy character and gives it a new spin, while still honoring where he came from. It’s well worth your time, and a very good time it is indeed.
Jack Ryan is available on Amazon’s Prime Video through streaming on August 31st. It has been renewed for a second season.