Without Remorse (film on Amazon Prime); Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Guy Pearce, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Brett Gelman, Colman Domingo, Lauren London; Direction: Stefano Sollima; Rating: * * (two stars)
BY VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY
With remorse, they ought to admit they goofed up. “Without Remorse” ticks all the boxes one expects in a Hollywood action/ espionage/ patriotic thriller. There’s a hunk gunning for revenge, lots of synchronised ultra-violence, trusty American military acing the Russians. There’s the dirty insider in the ranks too, as it happens in all spy dramas on screen. Yet the film forgets to tick the all-important box of cohesive storytelling. It turns into an incoherent mess as the minutes pass.
The fact doesn’t help that this has been aggressively pushed as a spin-off of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan universe. “Without Remorse” is based on Clancy’s 1993 novel of the same name, which traces the origin of John Clark (a.k.a John Kelly), billed as Clancy’s second-most popular creation after Ryan. It’s a hype that such a poorly-executed film can ill-afford.
The re-imagined screenplay (Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples) bears substantial departures from Clancy’s book, except that Michael B. Jordan’s protagonist is an elite US Navy SEAL named John Kelly. The film begins with John leading an elite team of SEALs to rescue a CIA operative from ex-Russian military forces in Syria. A few months later, a squad of armed Russian gunmen kill John’ s pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London) in their home, in an attack clearly aimed at him.
The incident, on American soil, triggers tension and Washington, DC is concerned. Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce) meets Ex-SEAL Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) and CIA operative Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) to thrash out an effective measure. A few twists later, Kelly is after the assassins, along with Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), Ritter (Jamie Bell) and a few others. The action-laced mission will expose a sinister plan that could lead to potential war.
If that synopsis reads like the script straight out of nineties Hollywood mainstream, it’s precisely what the film is. Stefano Sollima, who helms this assembly-line product, drew attention of Hollywood buffs in the past directing the Italian neo-noir crime drama “Suburra” and the action crime drama “Sicario: Day Of The Soldado” for the big screen and, more recently, the web series “ZeroZeroZero”. Sollima’s style, as these efforts would endorse, is about serving cutting-edge drama mixed with stark realism.
In “Without Remorse”, Sollima tries incorporating a cinematic idiom that in many ways echoes the Jack Ryan films from back in the day when John McTiernan made “The Hunt For Red October” (1990) or Phillip Noyce helmed “Patriot Games” (1992) or “Clear And Present Danger” (1994). Those were spectacular adventures, and absolutely engrossed upon release. Nearly three decades later, too many filmmakers in Hollywood have aped that spy thriller template too many times.
Of course, Sollima’s film tries updating Ryanverse logic by upping the brutality, and he gets amped-up CGI for better impact. Importantly, in Michael B. Jordan, he gets a new-age action star who stepped into John Clark’s boots with an already massive global fan base, thanks to “Creed” and “Black Panther”.
It could be because of the tone of the storyline that, despite the cosmetic makeover given to script and characters, Jordan’s protagonist — as well as every other character — seems to be stuck in a time warp. Consider the scene where Kelly takes on a dozen-odd highly-trained, fully-armed special operatives in the much-touted jailhouse fight sequence. It is the sort of action scene filmmakers all over — Bollywood included — have learnt to reject by now.
Jordan isn’t Hollywood’s first John Clark/Kelly. Given the character’s association with Jack Ryan, we have seen Willem Dafoe portray Clark in “Clear And Present Danger” and Liev Schreiber in “The Sum Of All Fears” (2002). Those, though, were supporting acts in Jack Ryan films. Jordan kicks off Hollywood’s John Clark franchise with this solo outing.
The advantage is frittered away because neither the film nor the character has anything new to offer to lovers of the action spy thriller genre.