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Amazon’s ‘Jack Ryan’ Embraces Its Title Character as a Classic Everyman

The upcoming series plans to take Tom Clancy’s literary hero back to basics and hopefully approaches his espionage story from an angle of nuance.
John Krasinski Jack Ryan
By  · Published on June 18th, 2018

The upcoming series will take Tom Clancy’s literary hero back to basics and hopefully approaches his espionage story from an angle of nuance.

John Krasinski has made a career out of playing the everyman. He’s still mostly known to the masses as Jim Halpert on NBC’s The Office, the textbook personification of an average joe. His latest directorial effort, A Quiet Place, focuses on an otherwise regular family doing everything they can to survive an alien-infested post-apocalyptic landscape. And as Krasinski embarks on a journey of potentially superheroic proportions in Amazon’s new Jack Ryan series, he’s definitely still taking these relatable, likable qualities with him — even into the realm of fighting terrorism.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan will be the first television offering for the beloved literary character. The 10-episode series will depict the title character stumbling into a new all-original adventure. Upon coming across some questionable bank transfers, Jack ends up finding more than he bargained for. He is forced out of a desk job into the real world of espionage to neutralize a global terrorist before they can attack the United States and its allies.

The crew of Jack Ryan turned up at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival over the weekend to attend the series’ world premiere. In attendance were Krasinski, co-stars Wendell Pierce (The Wire) and Dina Shihabi (Amira & Sam), and showrunners Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel) and Graham Roland (Lost).

During the event, Krasinski makes it a point to emphasize that his version of Jack Ryan won’t reach superhuman heights. Instead, Jack Ryan will ground its story on Jack’s talents as an analyst as he operates within the world of field work where he’s completely green. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Krasinski considers his take on Jack a “supercharged” counterpart to The Office‘s Jim, who just wants to get his job done. He stated:

“I really loved the idea of playing a superhero whose only real superpower is using his brain, and his instincts. It’s very inspiring in the world of superheroes and capes and flying and shooting things out of your hands. It’s nice to focus on real people and real heroes.”

To reconfigure the concept of the superhero into something closer to home isn’t a brand new one, and especially not in the Jack Ryan movie series. In fact, the appeal of the franchise has always been the smarts behind the action, even if the films have become increasingly implausible — plotwise — over the years. Daniel Sackheim, director and executive producer of the Amazon series, particularly recalls Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Jack Ryan as a definitive starting point for Krasinski’s. During his tenure, Ford combined his action hero sensibilities with a sense of self-awareness to bring a wary nature to his role as the analyst. Per IndieWire, Sackheim said, “He was heroic, but he was vulnerable. He wasn’t afraid to be scared. He was a regular man and a hero.”

Gunning for that kind of relatability could help breathe new life into the Jack Ryan franchise, particularly after two unsuccessful film reboots. It’s unsurprising that the show seems to be drawing inspiration from basically every past onscreen incarnation to date — either keeping the best parts about each of them, or reconfiguring them to fit this new original narrative. In skewing the character younger again a la Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October and Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears, and keeping in mind the Ford inspiration, Amazon is mining for a character who can clearly grow and develop for a long time to come without alienating the existing fanbase.

However, the fact that the series isn’t based on any specific Clancy novels — harking back to the ludicrous mess of Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit — could be a cause for concern. Pine delivered a serviceable performance, but his solo outing as Jack was marred by an unfulfilling story that was steeped in espionage cliches and an over-the-top, unresolved plot. Shadow Recruit is a generic spy thriller masquerading as a Jack Ryan movie by merely adopting the moniker.

The good news is that Roland particularly promises a more nuanced portrayal of all the characters in Jack Ryan — not just its heroes — which lends a distinctly complex flavor to the show without any unnecessary convolution. “The movies kind of focused on Jack Ryan in that this guy’s good, this guy’s bad, and that’s it,” Roland remarked. “We get to be a little more sophisticated and a little bit more real [in the series].”

In this way, the series apparently combats suspicions that this is one giant story about American exceptionalism as well. This isn’t an outrageous assumption to make either. It’s an accusation that rightly befalls virtually any American film and show that depicts terrorism-centric stories; Homeland and Zero Dark Thirty are just a couple of examples.

However, according to actress Dina Shihabi, who plays the wife of a Muslim activist on Jack Ryan, the show will evidently attempt to create a more well-rounded view of every character in order to inspire empathy: “[Jack Ryan‘s creators] took a story about a terrorist and they — for lack of a better term — humanized the people living those lives [and explained] the reasons they have chosen to go down those paths.” Yet, whether this translates on screen, especially in a show that will still be from the viewpoint of primarily American characters, remains to be seen.

Overall, multiple elements will have to factor into Jack Ryan to make the series sing. The series’ producers, showrunners, and stars have definitely considered the show’s impact on the franchise as a whole, and wish to live up to that legacy. Hopefully, Jack Ryan manages to enliven interest in an onscreen portrayal of a literary icon once again while also being sensitive to the grounded reality it wants to depict.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan hits Amazon Prime on August 31st.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)