Synopsis: An elite Navy SEAL uncovers an international conspiracy while seeking justice for the murder of his pregnant wife.
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Lauren London, Brett Gelman, Jacob Scipio, Jack Kesy, Colman Domingo, Guy Pearce
Director: Stefano Sollima
Running Length: 111 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: I must confess to being a huge fan of the Tom Clancy films of the Sean Connery/Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford days and not so much from the later chapters when Ben Affleck took over for Ford, Chris Pine took over for Affleck (in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and John Krasinski took over for Pine in the popular TV series for Amazon Prime. Each actor had their own spin on the role of Jack Ryan so you were bound to have someone along the way you could call your favorite. Movies just aren’t made at the breakneck speed necessary to keep up with the pace that books are written so much of Clancy’s material has been left un-adapted and even the properties that were already brought to life have had to jettison key characters with stories too complex to include into larger narratives.
Take John Clark, Jack Ryan’s close friend and onetime bodyguard. Featured in a number of Jack Ryan novels and eventually becoming nearly as popular as Ryan himself, Clark fits into many of the operations Ryan undertakes throughout Clancy’s blockbuster espionage thrillers. However, it was in 1993’s Without Remorse that Clancy gave readers Clark’s origin story, including how and why he changed his name from John Kelly and why the CIA helped him change his identity. Though the film has been bouncing around Hollywood for years trying to get made with several big names attached, it wasn’t until red-hot star Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) showed interest that the title became a must-have commodity again. Now, as Jordan gets ready to direct and star in Creed III, he’s set himself up with another franchise starter but how would Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse measure up to the level of thrillers it has followed?
It’s a little bit of the whole good news and bad news situation right now. Ripping the band aid off, I’ll say that the bad news is the overall ambiance of the movie doesn’t feel like the big budget production it should, considering the studio funds behind it and the producers involved. A number of films originally intended for theatrical release acquired by a streaming service look like they were made for the big screen when you see them at home. With Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, everything feels scaled down like the original goal was only to be for in-home distribution. More on that later but for now let’s talk about the positives. The good news is that Jordan is a natural for the role, well suited to be playing a skilled Navy SEAL back from a dangerous mission in Syria involving the CIA and the Russian military. When members of his team are assassinated and his pregnant wife is killed, he’s left for dead by an attacker’s gunfire but survives. This turns out to be, ironically, a good news/bad news situation all over again. Good news for John Kelly and bad news for anyone that gets in his way of finding those responsible for the death of his wife and unborn child. Taking the title of the movie literally, Kelly is a one-man machine of vengeance as he mows his way through high ranks of government both foreign and domestic to get the answers he wants.
The final script was re-written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Wind River and the upcoming Those Who Wish Me Dead) and it shows with his vernacular and tendency to use shorthand in his technical terms. He has the actors speak like these professionals would talk and it assists in the authenticity of it all. Working with his Sicario: Day of the Soldado director Stefano Sollima, Sheridan took over script duties form Will Staples so I can’t say who made the majority of alternations from Clancy’s original novel but the changes seem to be for the better in allowing this story to grow in future installments…because it should and will. Apart from it filling a gap for representation in people of color as action heroes, Kelly’s a complex character like we haven’t seen much of lately.
Much of that complexity is owed to Jordan’s performance as well as his platonic relationship with Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith, Queen & Slim) a friend and SEAL team member he can trust that has been watching out for him while he’s healed. Working with the Secretary of Defense (Guy Pearce, Lawless) and a not entirely trustworthy CIA Officer (Jamie Bell, Rocketman), Kelly and Greer use their government resources to further their serach for the truth. Of course, this being an action film built around large(ish) scale set piece, Kelly stages some daring acts of aggression in order to extricate information from sources that can help them locate who put a target on all of their backs.
You’d likely be able to write down who the bad people are at the beginning the film, seal it, and open it again at the end of the film and find your correct answer within. Along with a strange look that gives it almost a B-movie vibe, there’s little in the way of surprise as the plot moves from Point A to Point B. Extended fight sequences are periodically thrilling but endless gunfire scenes start to get old rather quickly, especially when it becomes a challenge following the action. Several times, Oscar-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (Beautiful Creatures) leaves us lost amongst the action with no direction on where to look. It’s all disorienting.
It might not rise to the ranks of The Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games but for a first outing with John Kelly, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a sufficient introduction to the character. This was a Saturday evening choice in my house and it proved to be a popular and rather perfect selection for a movie night. Jordan is said to be coming back for a second film and if that proves successful I’m wondering if we’ll ever see him team with Krasinski or another new Ryan feature film in the future – now that would be the event film I’d like to see.