Our own dangerous desk analyst Steve Taylor-Bryant captures Jack Ryan Season 1 on Amazon Prime...
I have always been a fan of Tom Clancy’s most famous creation. From the books in my youth, full of Cold War intrigue and distrust, through the films of Baldwin, Affleck and Ford. I even enjoyed the Chris Pine attempt at a Jack Ryan reboot, although I know I am on my own in that thought. None of the screen incarnations though, as good as they all were, really played up to the simple fact that Jack Ryan was an analyst. They were super spy action flicks and, whilst Ryan had plenty of adventures in the books as well, I always wanted some sort of origin to the character. Where did he come from? What kind of analyst ends up in gun battles? How did he meet his wife Cathy? As I grew up and the world changed around me, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the rise of Middle Eastern extremism and the like, I wondered how this 80’s throwback to a disruptive screen CIA would get on in today’s world. With the Amazon series, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, I finally get a resolution to all my queries.
Starting with a US air strike in Lebanon 1983, which sees two young brothers caught in the aftermath, through to the end and a promotion being offered to Ryan after the situation is resolved, I was glued to the screen. This is exactly what I had wanted for many years. There was time across the episodes to grow the character of Jack Ryan and give him the correct amount of depth to allow you to finally believe the story of an analyst that ends up in action. What we learn in the Amazon series is that Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) is an ex-marine that survived a grenade attack on his helicopter in Afghanistan, an attack he allowed by bringing onboard a young civilian who, it turned out, was a suicide soldier. Being badly injured and full of guilt, a recovered Ryan left military service and went to work on Wall Street before joining the CIA as a financial analyst, looking at the patterns and movements of money to try and locate terror cells. This is the type of analyst I always imagined Jack Ryan being, a good guy with a moral core that wanted to help but was reluctant to pick up a gun, feeling more comfortable behind a desk. He spots some money movements that point towards the terror leader known as Suleiman (Ali Suliman) and alongside his new, and not very friendly, department head, James Greer (Wendell Pierce) a cat and mouse chase from the Middle East, through Europe, and back into the United States begins. Throughout the series, each episode feels like a mini-film with its succulent location work and beautiful cinematography, and because it’s episodic television, it gets a longer time to tell the story. Alongside an interesting origin tale for Jack Ryan there is a stunningly real portrayal of troubles in a troubled region and how those with any power in the Middle East can gather the tools and money needed to launch the acts of terror on the West that they truly believe the West deserve. Suliman was believable as a terror leader; he was in some cases a tad stereotypical but in other instances had some real human qualities to show. The love for his brother, Ali (Haaz Sleiman) was powerful and relatable, and there are moments later in the series where he treats his Western hostages with a compassion that leave you wondering if this man is not a bit misunderstood, until the reasons to keep the hostages alive and well is revealed, and then you are just marvelling at the ingenuity of the attack that Ryan must prevent. Running parallel to the Suleiman versus Ryan narrative is the escape and eventual defection to the United States of Sulieman’s wife, Hanin (Dina Shihabi) and her daughters, and the look at how sons follow their fathers into the chaos that has befallen that region, which were both as fascinating as they were sad.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a great piece of television. John Krasinski in the title role is more believable as an analyst than any of the actors who have taken the mantle before him and that adds a sense of realism to proceedings. Ali Suliman is spellbinding to watch as the terrorist of the piece as he takes you on a political journey of cause and effect that will leave you thinking deeply about your own countries involvement in the Middle East and whether we are right or wrong in our actions, but it doesn’t push any party’s agenda down your throat and should allow you some good debate. There were two standout performers of the entire run of episodes for me though. Firstly, Dina Shihabi as Hanin, who played the vulnerability of a distraught parent incredibly and her journey from relative comfort at her husbands’ side to refugee camp in Turkey and beyond were amongst the most emotional in the whole series. The other was Wendell Pierce as Greer, who had a deadpan humour to him, played the disappointment and hatred for his job in a way that was watchable as well as funny, and to see his disdain for this analyst grow into true respect and eventual friendship was a joy to behold. The series ends with Greer promoted and moved to Moscow, with Ryan offered his position at Langley.
I’m not sure what the plans are for a second season yet, but I have had my modern origin for the character that I needed so I will be more than happy to see Jack Ryan move to Moscow and maybe get back to more Cold War type shenanigans that tie better into the source material. For now, though, if you have any interest in any of the topics played out, or any love for the character of Jack Ryan, then a watch of this first series won’t steer you wrong. A thoroughly enjoyable modern take on a character from my youth.
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Image - Amazon