A film review by Craig J. Koban May 14, 2021


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 West

Directed 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 SICARIO.  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.   



The loosely 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 baby

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 else.   

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. 

I've always been a fan of the Clancy films, even when Jake Ryan himself has gone through more actors than I do socks.  What held all of those films together for me in a unified manner is that they were good distillations of what made the author's novels work so well; they were taut and tight mind game political thrillers first and orgies of bullets, explosions, and mayhem a very distant second.  This is something that WITHOUT REMORSE doesn't comprehend, and the end result as a potential John Kelly franchise igniter is a passable time waster, but ultimately a sloppily engineered and weakly disposable military-spy flick.  I've read that this film went through two decades of development hell that began in 1993 and finally saw the light of day with this fairly unceremonious Amazon Prime release.  It's quite telling, because WITHOUT REMORSE comes across like a pedestrian hodgepodge of archaic and overused genre elements from films of yesteryear as opposed to something refreshingly modern and new.  

And, boy oh boy, Jordan is far too good for the material dished out to him here. 

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