After the spate of awful action movies to hit theaters in the past 10 months or so, suffice it to say, the cinematic bar has been lowered. Really, all I hope for these days is a car chase, an explosion and a likeable good guy who wins in the end. A plot, you say? Well, that would be nice certainly. So, imagine my surprise when I sit down to this: a prequel to the intelligent and wildly successful films based on the Tom Clancy novels. There’s a car chase and an explosion—there also is an extremely well-crafted, interesting and engaging thriller. Who knew?

Our story begins with a young Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) at university in London. The 9-11 attacks drive him to enlist in the Marines; and after a near-crippling injury, he attracts the attention of the CIA. Under the watchful eye of his handler, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), Ryan is hired to work covertly on Wall Street and track suspicious financial dealings that could be linked to terror groups. When he discovers some shady movement of funds within some Russian shell companies, he flies to Moscow for an audit. There, he discovers the enigmatic Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) and a plot.

I don’t want to be overly enthusiastic, as doubtless my low expectations led to my delight with this film, but I had almost no complaints. Branagh’s direction—as well as his acting—is outstanding and the film is smart and suspenseful. Even Pine—about whom I had my doubts—rises to the occasion as the reluctant hero. It’s an 8.

More Arts & Entertainment articles.