TOM CLANCY'S WITHOUT REMORSE
R, 109 mins.
2021, R, 109 mins.
Michael B. Jordan as John Kelly / Guy Pearce as Thomas Clay / Jamie Bell as Robert Ritter / Jodie Turner-Smith as Karen Greer / Cam Gigandet as Keith Webb / Jack Kesy as Thunder / Brett Gelman as Victor Rykov / Jacob Scipio as Hatchet / Luke Mitchell as Rowdy / Colman Domingo as Pastor WestDirected by Stefano Sollima / Written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples, based on the novel by Tom Clancy
Ever since the
release of THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER over three decades ago the name Tom
Clancy has become a recognizable and bankable brand in itself, which has
spawned an espionage themed multi-media empire that has permeated novels,
films, and video games (a pretty rare triple crown threat, if you ask me).
Whereas most of the cinematic Clancy inspired films have focused on
CIA analyst Jack Ryan (in various forms via multiple actors), the new
Amazon Prime thriller WITHOUT REMORSE (based on his 1993 novel of the same
name) focuses on one of the side characters of the Ryan cinematic universe
and gives him his own film. Despite
having the sizeable presence of Michael B. Jordan leading the charge and a
few well oiled action set pieces, TOM CLANCY'S WITHOUT REMORSE (to quote
its official full title) feels awfully paint by numbers and
woefully generic as far as would-be new franchise starters go.
What's really a
letdown is that this latest Clancy movie offering was co-written by Taylor
Sheridan (alongside Will Staples), who previous to this scripted some of
the best films of the last several years in HELL
OR HIGH WATER, WIND RIVER, AND
Fans of the original WITHOUT REMORSE source material might be in
for some serious disappointment here as well.
Some of the core ideas are still at play (like the basic revenge
storyline), but the era, locations, and much of the thematic complexity
that was present in the novel is all but scraped away here to unleash a
pretty rudimentary wronged man seeking vengeance narrative on pure
autopilot. On its most basic levels, WITHOUT REMORSE bares little
resemblance to Clancy's own book outside of its title and some of its
characters, and throughout it feels more like a series of action scenes
stitched together to support a flimsy story as opposed to the latter
informing the other. If you
like thoughtful nuance and complexity in your spy thrillers, then this is
not going to be up your alley at all.
assembled plot squares in on U.S. Navy SEAL John Kelly (previously known
as John Clark in other Clancy fiction, played by Jordan) who's one of the
proverbial best of the best when it comes to being a dedicated military
man and a lethal force in general. In
the film's decent prologue we see John and fellow special forces member
Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) being led by slimy CIA operative Robert
Ritter (the cast against type Jamie Bell) on what's assumed to be a
routine hostage mission in Syria. Predictably,
no mission in these types of thrillers is ever routine, and even though
John and company are successful, they seem to have to mow their way
through an abnormal number of Russian soldiers in the process.
In John's mind, something just doesn't smell right about what went
down, and the thought of some sort of CIA corruption at play rears its
ugly head. Nevertheless, John
returns home to go back to a relative life of normalcy outside of the
battlefront with wife Pam (Lauren London), who is expecting their first
Now, I know what
you may be thinking: When has a pregnant wife to a government operative
that's just been a part of a fishy mission ever been safe in a movie
before? Well, the Russians
that John and his team angered have come back to haunt him, leading to a
hellish attack on his home and family, leaving him horribly injured and
his wife and unborn son dead. After
his grueling recovery and grieving process, John asks Greer and Secretary
Clay (Guy Pierce) to be a part of a special team to seek out answers and
find out the persons responsible for destroying his life. It soon becomes clear that John is tainted more by a desire
for bloody comeuppance than he is bringing the guilty parties to justice,
which frequently gets him into serious trouble.
His lust for revenge also becomes tainted by multiple roadblocks
being constantly thrown in front of him, not to mention that Clay himself
may or may not be fully on his side in the process.
I was frankly
surprised by just how simplistic the scripting is here, especially in how
it's handled in clichéd riddled and broad genre strokes.
We get the superhuman army man that becomes a bullet sponge for
faceless and unknown enemies that leave him for dead, only to be
resurrected to seek revenge on said individuals with extreme prejudice.
That's basically it. Of
course, we have some attempts at embellishing the narrative with multiple
power players all vying for control over John and an obligatory conspiracy
afoot, but none of these elements are compellingly rendered, nor executed
well. If you strip away the
feeble attempts at government/espionage intrigue here, all we are left
with in WITHOUT REMORSE is a thinly veiled and lame JOHN
WICK clone that's high on body counts and low on suspense.
This whole approach seems like a complete 180 degree turn away from
the building blocks of what made Clancy's novels/films work in the first
place. This isn't aided by
the fact that John isn't developed well as a worthy protagonist: He's a
one-man slaughter house SEAL that's driven by pure rage...and not much
That's too bad,
because Jordan - one of the best young actors - gives 110 per cent in his
role and invests in it with his characteristic tenacity, but it's the
ultimate case of a A-grade performer doing wonders with D-grade material
and AWOL character development. The
film spends so little time on John and his wife that she becomes more of a
plot device to springboard the revenge tail forward (London gets so
painfully little screen time as this love interest that audience members
have to be reminded to feel sorry for John because of her death very early
in the narrative). Also,
consider where the film could have went if it thoroughly explored the
trials and tribulations of a black solider that has given everything for
his country that has now had everything taken away from him.
Any attempts on social/political commentary in WITHOUT REMORSE is
borderline comatose. John is
a pretty flavorless action figure takes names, kicks ass, and flexes his
muscles with a lot of patriotic posturing in the process. Why
get an actor of Jordan's range and skills if just about any hulked out
star could have played this part? And
don't get me started on Pearce's appearance here, who's playing what seems
like his umpteenth bureaucrat with duplicitous motives.
It doesn't take a fortune teller to foresee Clay's arc.
Worst of all is
that WITHOUT REMORSE thinks it's smarter than it actually is, and there
are some real preposterous plot developments that unwind throughout the
film. There's a hilariously
ludicrous moment involving John stalking a target that culminates with a
confrontation in front of an airport and involves some over-the-top
violence perpetrated by John around multiple witnesses that would never,
ever go down in the real world. This
leads to the hero being arrested and thrown in prison where he's inundated
with mobs of vile Russians that want to see him dead.
Everything builds to a third act and ending that pathetically
attempts to tie up loose ends and setup a sequel (sigh) that most likely
will not happen...or will probably not be wanted by most viewers by the
time this one ends. I guess
all we are left with is the action, and director Stefano Sallima (who
helmed the very underrated SICARIO sequel DAY
OF THE SOLDADO) lovingly crafts very solid sequences, like an
extended pulse pounding one in a Russian apartment complex or a fairly
spectacular airplane crash mid-way through. WITHOUT REMORSE is not without its technical merits, but its
main issue is that it has million dollar visuals with ten cent scripting.
And, boy oh boy, Jordan is far too good for the material dished out to him here.