For all its gadgetry and post-9/11 references, Kenneth Branagh's venture into Tom Clancy spy-film territory is an enjoyably old-fashioned affair with more than a whiff of John Buchan about it.
Branagh strikes a relentless narrative tempo. It only takes him minutes to whisk us from the London School of Economics (where Chris Pine's Jack Ryan is studying when the Twin Towers are attacked) to Afghanistan (where he goes as a marine in 2003), and then on to Wall Street, where he becomes a banker and covert CIA analyst after surviving horrific injuries. Keira Knightley is the beautiful surgeon who has helped nurse him back to health and has become his fiancée. Kevin Costner plays Ryan's CIA handler.
The fact that the Russians are the villains adds to the film's nostalgic feel (but won't help box-office receipts in Moscow). Branagh himself gives an enjoyably tongue-in-cheek performance as Russian banker Viktor Cherevin, who is plotting the collapse of the dollar. He's an ardent nationalist who reads Lermontov and believes fervently in the great Russian soul, yet doesn't think twice about torturing enemies by getting them to chew on 40-watt bulbs.
At times, this Jack Ryan thriller seems stuck in a netherworld between James Bond and Jason Bourne. Ryan isn't as flamboyant as the former or as hardbitten as the latter. Even so, Branagh demonstrates that ripping yarns about square-jawed spies will never quite lose their currency.