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PLOT: A Navy SEAL (Michael B. Jordan) seeks revenge after his pregnant wife is killed during a hit gone awry. He discovers it all relates to a plot to reignite the Cold War with Russia, sending him on the warpath.
REVIEW: After years and years of being in development hell, Tom Clancy’s WITHOUT REMORSE finally has become a movie, albeit one that’s so far removed from the source material, one wonders why they tied it to Clancy at all. In it, Michael B. Jordan plays the character who becomes John Clark, arguably Clancy’s second most popular protagonist outside of Jack Ryan. Clark was previously brought to life by Willem Dafoe in Clear and Present Danger opposite Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan. Then there was Liev Schreiber as a younger John Clark, with Ben Affleck as Ryan in his only take on the character in The Sum of All Fears.
Many stars have been attached to play John Clark over the years, with Keanu Reeves and one-time Superman Brandon Routh among them. If Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit had been a hit, we likely would have gotten Without Remorse as a spin-off with Kevin Costner reprising his role from that film, and Tom Hardy as Clark. Christopher McQuarrie had been attached to direct. Yet, it didn’t happen as Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was a flop with both critics and audiences, and Jack Ryan took a turn to the smaller screen with John Krasinski playing him on the current Amazon TV series. Ironically, Amazon is now distributing Without Remorse. It was produced by Paramount Pictures as a theatrical release, with the intention to start a franchise. Rainbow Six would be the sequel.
So how does the film fair? Without Remorse is a decent enough thriller, with a fine performance by Jordan in the lead, but I can’t help but be disappointed. For one thing, this doesn’t feel very much like anything related to Tom Clancy. It’s a low-key action thriller, very similar to Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, in that both seem modestly budgeted and low-wattage for would-be franchise starters. What keeps Without Remorse being as big of a disappointment is Jordan.
Obviously a star, Jordan has the megawatt charisma to keep you watching and engaged, even if you wish he’d had more Clancy-esque material to work with, had they kept Clark as more of an anti-hero. Jordan’s Clark is a true-blue hero, a decorated SEAL who – shades of Commando – finds his team is being knocked off after an extraction mission. When the hit squad comes to kill him, they miss but kill his pregnant wife, leading him to uncover a plot that seems poised to ignite another Cold War with Russia. He’s alternately helped and hindered by two government agents, one being Jamie Bell’s weasel CIA agent, Ritter, the other being Guy Pearce’s Secretary of Defense, Clay. He’s also aided by his SEAL unit commander, played by Jodie Turner-Smith.
So where does the film go wrong? Everywhere but Jordan to be honest. Director Stefano Solima did a great job with Sicario: Day of the Soldado but doesn’t seem up to making a big action movie. What’s doubly disappointing is that Taylor Sheridan had a hand in the script, but it certainly doesn’t feel up to his standards. The casting is so-so, with Pearce not having much to do, while Bell seems too boyish for his part as a high-ranking CIA agent. The one who sticks out is Jodie Turner-Smith of Queen and Slim as Clark’s commanding officer. Striking and a good actress to boot, she still doesn’t seem credible as a SEAL. It’s simply a case of miscasting although her character is meant to recur, with her playing the daughter of James Greer – the character played by James Earl Jones in the films, while Wendell Pierce plays him on the Amazon show. I wonder if this is meant to take place in the same world?
The action is curiously low-wattage despite Jordan’s physicality. It’s frustrating. The gunfights are generic and one scene where he sets a car on fire and then climbs into it strains credibility. This is upsetting because there’s a brief hand-to-hand sequence in a jail cell that’s killer, utilizing Jordan’s physicality and intensity in a way that makes you wish a different, or more experienced creative team in terms of action movies had been involved.
There are a few bright spots though. Jordan is great – he can’t help but be good, as is Brett Gellman in a cast-against type turn as a baddie. The movie also has a good musical score by Sigur Ros’ Jonsi. In the end, Without Remorse will likely disappoint Clancy fans in a major way, but perhaps younger audiences that don’t care about the books won’t care. It hits Amazon Prime this Friday and that’s a good platform for a movie like this. Had this been a theatrical release it probably would merit a 5/10 but given that it’ll be streaming free to subscribers, I’d say this just about ekes out a 6/10. While I’m mixed it, I do hope Jordan gets the chance to do Rainbow Six, I just hope for the next one they pump some big bucks into it and give Jordan the A-quality star vehicle he deserves.