'Jack Ryan': Amazon's latest adaptation of Tom Clancy's novels depicts Ryan as a hero in the era of anti-heroes
While President Donald Trump is turning his back on the authenticity of the US intelligence, Krasinski's Ryan is proving the CIA is just as devoted to its nation as always
Thomas Shelby in BBC Two's 'Peaky Blinders' is a character who has been on both sides of the spectrum. He has played the bad guy and the good guy, the man with an unfortunate past and a distressing present, a character painted in both black and white. In short, Thomas Shelby lacks the basic ingredient that defines a hero - morality. Morality is what makes our conscious decide between what needs to be done and what shouldn't be. While most characters, be it on TV or in movies today, operate within a grey area where there is no place for morality, John Krasinki's Jack Ryan begs to differ.
Bringing Tom Clancy's iconic CIA analyst who goes on to become the President of the United States back on TV, Amazon's 'Jack Ryan' has withheld all of its cinematic characteristics from the small screen.
The production has merged the definition of film and TV show in such a way that it almost seems like an extended 10-hour movie, with brilliant characterization and cinematography. While Ryan is an athletic guy, the action sequences in the show are so well choreographed and timed that they are neither exaggerated nor overly dramatized.
While the show is sophisticated in its making, Krasinski has also done an excellent job in portraying the CIA agent from a guy who works behind the desk to the hero who goes on to explore a terrorist threat in the Middle East. As showrunners, Carlton Cuse ('Lost') and Graham Roland ('Mile 22') had already decided to tell an original story not found in any of Clancy's novels.
The main attraction of the show lies in its form and content. Jack Ryan is shown working in the lower levels of the CIA before he uncovers a terrorist organization in the Middle East which soon lands him in the very heart of the battle.
The reason why we usually adore anti-heroes is that these characters are extremely easy to relate to. When you look at Thomas Shelby, you do not see a stone-hearted businessman who sends his entire family to prison just to hide from the eyes of the law. Instead, Shelby is a man who fought in the First World War, gathered his remaining family, and created an empire where no one is above him. Yet every time he is on screen, you cannot help but empathize with the man who regrets his misdeeds and tries to rectify them, only to fail again due to circumstances. Shelby returns from the past as a changed man, a man who almost despises the ways of the world.
On the other hand, Ryan takes a very different path. Despite his own share of past mishaps and with all that life had to offer, Ryan chooses morality. He considers his principles to be above his vengeance and acts accordingly. What sets him apart from the rest of the CIA is his tendency to follow his instinct and put his knowledge to use when solving a case.
Instances of Ryan's unruffled nature were pretty evident in Alec Baldwin's depiction of the character in the 1990 movie 'The Hunt For Red October' - which was also the first movie in the Ryanverse franchise. Krasinski's Ryan draws roots from Baldwin, who gave the character his submissive look and brave-hearted nature.
Taking the legacy forward, it is almost practical for Krasinski to idolize the character because he is, after all, just a man who works hard to make it through the day. The 'everyman' depiction of the character puts him in an odd position within the post-truth era where anti-heroes are celebrated. It is true, that in an era where the idea of truth constantly differs to point at one man and say, "he's right", this is a difficult thing to do. However, it can so easily be said about Ryan. The reason why Ryan has an upper hand over anti-heroes is his sheer sense of justice. He is passionate about the ideal path, but he doesn't blindly follow it.
A lot like Sherlock Holmes, he too doubts his instincts and tries to back them up with data and evidence. That is exactly what makes him a hero without a cape. He is a man who is ready to face a difficult life, take up hardships, and fulfill his responsibilities for the simple cause of sticking to his morals and not have blind faith in truth alone.
When Ryan's character is placed against Islamic activist Suleiman, he shines like a pebble in the dust. What is interesting is that Ryan and Suleiman have been weaved in such a way by the creators that both can easily take up the place of the protagonist. Thankfully, Israeli actor Ali Suliman who plays Suleiman in the series has made sure the terrorist is not a filthy villain who only kills for the sake of killing.
Doing away with the typical Bin Laden portrayal of terrorists, the showrunners depict Suleiman as a victim of terrorism himself. His past has left him wounded mentally and, in order to heal, he chooses the path of violence. Although Suleiman eventually gives in and follows the path of the damned, he is also a family man who looks out for his wife and children.
Suleiman can be inferred to be the actual antagonist in the show. He is opposed to the West's hold on the Middle East and would go to any extent to overthrow the invaders. During a brief encounter between Ryan and Suleiman, undeniably one of the most interesting scenes this season, the two characters seem to indulge in a battle of wits.
While Ryan tries to understand Suleiman and empathize with him, Suleiman develops some respect for Ryan from the conversation they exchange. The scene establishes Ryan as the un-masked hero and Suleiman as the unfathomed antagonist.
That has always been one of the most interesting aspects of a Jack Ryan story - you never get an actual villain. Just as the show does not depend on stereotypes, it also portrays the US Intelligence as the essential good guys. That is not the case usually, with most shows and movies depicting the CIA as the necessary backstabbers (such as John Singleton's 'Snowfall' which sees Teddy as a disgraced CIA agent trying to smuggle cocaine). The Ryanverse, meanwhile, has always shown the CIA as the ones who stand up for justice.
It is certainly a refreshing take on the US Intelligence who are otherwise being criticized by the President himself. The showrunners had done extensive research on the CIA. Cuse had said, "We had a great appreciation for the role that these people play in keeping us safe and keeping the world safe and the importance of the United States as a beacon of democracy."
Roland had also mentioned, "Our intention was to entertain people and give Clancy fans the portrayal of the military and the CIA that they remember from the books and from the early movies."
Amazon's 'Jack Ryan' may be the most appropriate depiction of the CIA agent so far. He is both reliable and mischievous which makes him the most attractive man in the room. Considering the plethora of characters on screen who are borderline villains and heroes, a character like Ryan reminds us why rules are necessary and when it's important to break them. For now, we can get excited for the second season, whose production is already underway.