Jack Ryan Season 1 Review: A well-layered spy thriller for the adrenaline junkies

Srivathsan Nadadhur -

Jack Ryan Season 1 Review: A well-layered spy thriller for the adrenaline junkies

Jack Ryan, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, perfectly fills the void of a quality spy thriller on the platform. Borrowing characters from the universe of novelist Tom Clancy’s Ryanverse, the actioner is set in a post 9/11 timeline, where the protagonist, an analyst at the CIA is on a hunt to nab the kingpin of a terror outfit based out of Yemen. Finding the perfect balance between strategy, detailing, emotion and high-octane action, the show may not leave you gasping for breath, but gives you a strong reason to invest your time on a leisurely paced yet well-told story.
The writers make no bone about the fact their protagonist, a CIA financial analyst, Jack Ryan is an embodiment of earnestness. There’s no redundant glorification though; Ryan has his own set of flaws but those traits merely complete his personality. He suspects something fishy when a series of financial transactions tracked down to Yemen raises alarms of another major terror attack on the lines of 9/11 in the offing. Despite initial tension with his superior James Greer, the two hit it off soon and leave for Yemen to avert any damage. The nerdy Jack Ryan, once restricted to his desk, discovers that he’s born for the field. He lives on the edge, flourishes in the hour of danger and thrives under pressure. He sees the operation, beyond his hunt for the terrorist outfit leader, as an opportunity to rediscover himself.

Jack Ryan stays loyal to the tropes of a conventional spy thriller. It may not offer anything out of the box, but the reasonably slick packaging and timely tweaks to the universe of old-time thrillers work well. While the storytelling is focused, the subplots are weaved into the narrative with adequate emotional charge minus overt drama. It’s refreshing to see the directors’ effort to tell the story from multiple dimensions i.e. the antagonist’s perspective as much as the righteous protagonist (both personal and professional) – the backstories are integrated quite methodically to elaborate the interpersonal relationships between various characters over the 400-minute-long show. The makers give a strong reason to care for each of the characters.


The series works on its softer, lighter aspects effectively – sample the sequence where Jack, while in conversation with his soon-to-be girlfriend, is received by his superior in a helicopter in the middle of a party. It’s a royal, wonderful narrative trick that hints Jack’s girlfriend about his profession despite his best efforts to hide its specifics from her. The conversations between Jack and his romantic interest are breezy exchanges filled with ample strokes of humour, that are a welcome break from the other supposedly earth-shattering, heavy issues the show touches upon. The initial tension between Jack and his boss Greer, later his French counterpart and the underplayed sarcasm in their later conversations bring a lightness to the otherwise fiery vibe of the show.
The thriller takes you through the often-ignored angle of sexual abuse that women undergo in the hands of men in terror outfits. It also shows how women remain the emotional anchor to the younger lot who grow amid such turbulent environments. There are some fine moments of intrigue showcasing the modus operandi of terrorists, i.e. the way they communicate using a networking game, use mind over muscle power in the hour of crisis. The rare emphasis on biowarfare adds another layer of curiosity to the proceedings. The action chases, particularly the climactic moments in a metro subway, are tautly executed and provide enough material for the adrenaline junkies to cheer about. Intermittently, the violence gets slightly graphic – one may say it’s the need of the hour but it’s a tad too brutal for the weak hearted.
There’s a good chance that the viewer, who may have regularly consumed thrillers in the film-format, may feel overwhelmed by the detailing. One, the series progresses at a pace that’s far from breathtaking. Despite the terrifically filmed sequences in the intermediary episodes, it is more exhausting than engaging with its fact-heavy treatment. As it always goes in this genre, the show romanticises on-field action as a supposed symbol of masculinity and presents the original role of the protagonist as a financial analyst as boring and mundane.
All said and done, it’s hard to ignore the craft put in the execution of Jack Ryan. The cinematographic finesse is obvious and so is the work with the edgy, subtle background score. The casting is one of its major strengths. John Krasinski plays the titular role with panache and lends it a sufficient emotional balance, Ali Suliman effortlessly slips into the skin of a terrorist and uses his body language and expressions to generate fear. Wendell Pierce’s as-cool-as-a-cucumber screen presence is welcoming and Dina Shihabi brings in a lot of strength to her portrayal of a vulnerable wife of a terrorist. Abbie Cornish is refreshing as the protagonist’s romantic interest. Directors Morten Tyldum, Daniel Sackheim, Patricia Riggen and Carlton Cuse display great consistency while changing roles across episodes and do justice to the adept screenwriting.

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