Michael B. Jordan … John Kelly
Written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples.
Based on the novel by Tom Clancy.
Directed by Stefano Sollima
WITHOUT REMORSE REVIEW
Tom Clancy fans rejoice! After nearly three decades, at long last, a worthy successor to the one-two-three punch of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger finally emerges in the form of Stefano Sollima’s solid, though trite, Without Remorse.
First thing’s first: this is not the book you read in 1993, the one that detailed famed Clancy hero John Clark’s rise from broken man to a badass, pimp killing, elite soldier in 1970s Baltimore. In the film, action shifts to modern-day and follows disgruntled Navy SEAL John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) on his quest to avenge the death of his wife, executed via a Russian gang with ties to one of those elaborate conspiracies centered around the threat of — what else? — all-out war.
Obviously, there was no way to fully adapt Clancy’s massive 630+ page book for the big screen. Still, writers Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples make mincemeat of the text in favor of a straightforward, predictable revenge thriller that bears only a passing resemblance to the source material.
Even so, the film satisfies as a suspenseful yarn packed with a handful of Sicario-styled action beats, including a tense bit in which our hero must navigate a fallen aircraft before it sinks to the bottom of the ocean; and a climactic standoff in one of those ready-made, abandoned buildings in the middle of Russia perfectly suited for an explosive shootout.
Yet, for all its gusto, Without Remorse makes the same mistakes as the last several Clancy adaptations — namely Phil Alden Robinson’s toothless The Sum of All Fears (2002), Kenneth Branagh’s by-the-numbers Bourne clone Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), and Amazon’s superbly cast but poorly realized Jack Ryan series starring John Krasinski — and trades brains for brawn in an attempt to win over Marvel-induced audiences.
Look, I get the reasoning. A majority of today’s young adults would just as soon listen to Liberace than sit through the leisurely paced, intricately plotted, PG-rated Hunt for Red October, hence the need to up the action and simplify the narrative. But why bother? Early Clancy adaptations worked precisely because they didn’t cater to action aficionados. Instead, they offered intricately plotted dramas packed with multifaceted characters who stood in direct contrast to the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the day.
Oh sure, Clancy all but disowned Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger for (ironically enough) oversimplifying (or discarding) the plots of their respective books, but such films still bore the renowned author’s hawkish style and typically catered to fans of his work, i.e., older audiences who didn’t mind watching Alec Baldwin or a 50-year old Harrison Ford battle drug cartels, Irish terrorists, Russian sub-commanders and shady government types from behind their desks at the CIA. The carefully crafted plots offered the wow factor. All action was secondary.
Without Remorse has its protagonist light a car on fire before jumping inside the vehicle to interrogate a mustache-twirling villain. Later, Kelly takes on a prison full of police officers and inmates during an outlandish sequence ripped straight from one of those cheesy Steven Seagal flicks from the late 80s.
None of this is bad, mind you. Some of it is even thrilling in its own unique Call of Duty-styled way, but it still ain’t Clancy.
And yet, I’ll recommend Without Remorse simply because, despite my many criticisms, the film is a huge step in the right direction as far as Clancy adaptations go. Its revenge plot may be overly simplistic, but it still works. The action is riveting, Sollima’s direction sharp. There’s also some fun, shadowy government stuff centered around Jamie Bell’s mysterious CIA operative Robert Ritter that’s obviously set up for a big-screen take on Clancy’s 1998 novel (and subsequent video game series) Rainbow Six — the film everyone involved clearly wants to make — and strong performances from Jodie Turner-Smith (playing James Greer’s daughter) and the always reliable Guy Pearce to boot.
Still, this is Michael B. Jordan’s show, and the actor rises to the physical demands of his role whilst doing a damned fine job establishing a character worth rooting for. The Black Panther star fits the John Clark persona better than Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber, who portrayed the character in Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears, respectively, even if his iteration at times feels more like an extension of his embattled Creed character than the cold-hearted, methodical walking tank described in the novel. Still, at least Jordan has a solid foundation to leap from should the powers-that-be proceed with follow-up films.
After 27 years and two false starts, Hollywood finally delivers a cinematic Tom Clancy hero worthy of his own franchise — next time, just pack a little more intellect alongside all those assault rifles.
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse streams on Amazon Prime this Friday.