Let’s start with this: I know nothing about Tom Clancy or Jack Ryan. I have seen one Jack Ryan film and I am told it is the worst interpretation of the character. So, if you are reading this review and expecting the opinion of someone who has intimate knowledge of the source material, that would not be me.
However, if you are reading this and want an unbiased opinion on a highly anticipated television show then look no further. This is my first true exposure to this character, so I can only judge on what I believe is entertaining and what makes sense in the context of this series. Are you ready? Let’s get started.
Jim Halpert: Shadow Recruit
This series first made news when it was announced that John Krasinski would be involved. Most people know him as Jim Halpert from NBC’s The Office. Some may know him from, his recent hit film, A Quiet Place. A Quiet Place was a stand out performance for Krasinski and showcased his talents as a dramatic, as opposed to comedic, actor. But Jack Ryan was announced long before A Quiet Place became an unexpected hit.
I am a woman who enjoys a good spy thriller or war movie. I was raised on John Wayne and James Bond by a movie loving father who also devoured books by authors like Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy and John Grisham. The idea of Krasinski, who often plays light affable characters, in a role that has been played by Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine interested me. I was immediately intrigued by that combination. But for many others, the casting announcement had them scratching their heads in confusion.
Those people are likely no longer wondering what led to his casting. If you had any doubts about John Krasinski’s abilities as a dramatic actor, then throw them all out right now. He delivers it all. Jack Ryan is eight episodes of twisting, action packed, epic drama that will leave you eager for more, and it is largely due to Krasinski’s performance. You are in Jack’s corner, cheering him on, from the pilot onward. Krasinski plays the emotional moments with many layers. He leverages boy scout goodness with determined grit and yet you never doubt whether Jack Ryan will make the honorable and right choice.
There is a beautiful moment during the series with Jack and Cathy, where they discuss what happened to his character in Afghanistan, and the way the story is narrated to Cathy is quietly emotional; and not long after he tells the story, Jack makes a joke and leaves the room. It’s a story that Jack has avoided telling at every turn and to hear him tell Cathy not only informs the audience of the guilt and shame he carries on his shoulders, but it also speaks to the trust he has in Cathy. Krasinski plays it with subtlety and self-deprecation. The entire scene is one brilliantly executed decision after another.
Like A Quiet Place — and 13 Hours before that — Jack Ryan is another purposeful jump into dramatic acting for John Krasinski and if he hasn’t proven his ability by now then I don’t know what else people expect him to do. This series managed to showcase every ounce of his acting talent and yet, for Krasinski, it never felt forced. His performance was absolutely organic with comedy, drama and romance weaved solidly throughout.
The Hunt for SDCC Screening Opinions
I heard many opinions, after the pilot was screened at San Diego Comic Con, that proclaimed the pilot to be boring. I will say that despite loving the series, I can understand these opinions. The Pilot is the least exciting of all eight episodes. The majority of the first episode unfolds as you would expect, until the last few minutes. If you find yourself not completely sold on Jack Ryan at the end of the pilot, then I would recommend giving it one more episode. If you are still on the fence by the end of Episodes 2, titled “French Connection”, then this series may not be for you.
It was, I am thrilled to say, very much for me. After the pilot the story is well paced and unfolds in a beautifully human way. The protagonists are occasionally unlikeable and the antagonists can be sympathetic. There is no grey area where what the antagonists are doing is concerned, but the series works hard to establish compassionate backstories that tell a believable origin. The care that is taken with Mousa Suleiman and Ali Suleiman is what first impressed me.
John Krasinski may have been the draw for many people, but the entire cast is impressive. I was immediately excited to see Timothy Hutton amongst the cast. He is a consistently proven actor that I enjoy seeing on my screen. He continued that streak here as Nathan Singer, who is meant to be a complicated ally and antagonist for our main heroes. Wendell Pierce, as James Greer, was as sardonically funny and as gruffly compassionate as he possibly could be. He made Greer a lovable grump on an emotional journey and that easily could have become cliched or disingenuine. In Pierce’s hands, Greer was never interpreted as either of those things.
The actors portraying our antagonists, Ali Suliman and Haaz Sleiman, were in many ways relatable and charismatic as Mousa and Ali Suleiman. Though their methods cannot be condoned, you can understand what may have led them astray. Neither of the brothers are portrayed as cruel or unreasonable initially. They are dangerous. There are no doubts about that, but they value family and respect the less fortunate among them. For that alone, I would have watched all eight episodes of Jack Ryan. It felt fresh and different and allowed for characterizations that rang true to life.
Clear and Present Dangers
For all that I enjoyed in this series, there were a few things that did initially bother me. There were many things about Jack Ryan’s diversity that the producers got exactly right, but the lack of a central female character for the CIA portions of the story did feel glaringly obvious at points. That is not to say the show fails to represent females fairly — there are standout women in this series, but they all come and go. There are two female characters who are in majority of the episodes that say more than one or two lines per episode. Beyond that, you have one other female character who is around for four episodes early on in the season and then another supporting character who is only in a handful of episodes as well. It was not a deal breaker for me, but it may be for some of you.
The female characters who are featured are impressive, each in a different way. Hanin, who is played by the gorgeous Dina Shihabi, is a fierce protective mother and wife to our main antagonist. Shihabi’s portrayal of this brave woman is remarkable. I adored her from the first moment she appeared on screen to the last. Abbie Cornish as Cathy Mueller has a dry humor and no nonsense attitude that will win you over as well. She is sharply intelligent. Cathy Mueller is a revered epidemiologist with excellent credentials who is pulled into the conflict due to her professional reputation and not her connection to Jack Ryan. She stands solidly on her own two feet. Abbie Cornish balances femininity and competent capability with ease.
Easily, though, my favorite female character in this series is the one we saw the least of. Sandrine Arnaud portrayed by Marie-Josee Croze. Sandrine was tough and honest to the point of being tactless. We see her for four episodes of this eight episode series and it was not enough. She won me over from her first line, “I will say this once so we can get this over with. You are guests in this country. If I give an order I expect it to be followed. If you have a problem with this, I need to know now.” She is tough and funny, and honestly, I would watch a spin off of eight episodes just about her.
There is another female character that I could have enjoyed more of as well. Ava Garcia or “Riot Grrl” as she is called in the series is another tough as nails character. However, Yani Marin, in her few appearances as Ava, gave us a measured portrayal of tough and compassionate that is rarely written well and even harder to pull off. Garcia as Ava quickly won my heart. She was compelling and fair, tough yet fragile. Garcia gave great depth to a character who was merely supposed to be a measuring stick for Victor Polizzi’s emotional well being.
So while I will not go so far as to say there is no female representation in this series, I will say there could stand to be much more. I greatly enjoyed how Hanin, Cathy, Sandrine, and Ava were all written. I enjoyed them to the point of being disappointed that I did not get to see these writers bring more female characters to life. If were to make any suggestions for Jack Ryan season two then it would be to increase the presence of female characters across the board. I adored Sandrine and Ava and would be ecstatic to see the incorporation of a similar female character fighting with Jack Ryan and James Greer in season two.
There was also a plot that really slowed momentum for me and I hate to bring it up, given it was the plot line that included Ava Garcia. But nonetheless, Victor Polizzi’s plotline regarding the innocent man he unknowingly killed served very little purpose to the overall narrative. That is not a slight against John Magaro’s performance at all. He played Victor expertly well. In this case it was the writing that felt weak. The only purpose I could find this plot served was to establish how and why Hanin escaped Yazid and his attempt to rape her. Beyond that, the side plot with Victor was a drag on the overarching story.
The Sum of All Feels
But despite those criticisms, Jack Ryan is an entertaining ride that manages to be both emotional and fresh. I watched the entire series with my parents. We all found something to enjoy. My father, as I said previously, is a fan of spy thrillers and war movies so it seemed obvious to me that he would be enthralled. I was worried about mother. My mother is a fan of shows like The Crown, Downton Abbey, and Victoria. Jack Ryan is essentially the exact opposite of epic period television and even she was quickly engrossed in the series. We binge watched all eight episodes when we knew we had other more pressing things to do, which is the exact reaction any series exclusive to a streaming service should cause.
At the heart of this series is a character who represents our ideal values. He is what we wish we could be. He faces the evils of the world and yet still believes he can fight it without becoming a part of it. He is told by many characters that compromising his beliefs and breaking his word is necessary to doing his job, and each time he refuses to accept it. He is hopeful, determined, and resilient. In a perfect world, we would have many more Jack Ryans serving the people. But as this is not a perfect world, Prime’s Jack Ryan series will have to do. Maybe it will inspire more of us to take action and stand up for basic human decency. We need that now more than ever.
Jack Ryan is available on Amazon Prime.