Principal Cast : Michael B Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Luke Mitchell, Jack Kesy, Brett Gelman, Lauren London, Colman Domingo, Guy Pearce, Cam Gigandet, Todd Lasange, Lucy Russell, Jacob Scipio.
Synopsis: John Kelly, a Navy SEAL, goes on a path to avenge his wife’s murder only to find himself inside of a larger conspiracy.
Remember back in the day Harrison Ford used to headline a franchise of films about CIA analyst Jack Ryan getting into all manner of international espionage and intrigue? Those were the days. With the new millennium upon us, and Harrison Ford no longer adequately able to handle the kind of hardcore action stuff modern audiences have become used to, filmmakers mining the deep legacy of Tom Clancy’s militaristic novel series have had to turn to new and younger stars to saddle with this well-trod subgenre; notably, Jack Ryan being given his own sputtering feature film starring Chris Pine, as well as a streaming series starring A Quiet Place’s John Krasinski for Amazon. Now, Amazon have dipped a toe into Clancy’s world again with a big-screen lead-role turn for the eponymous John Clark, previously depicted by Willem Dafoe in Clear and Present Danger, and Liev Schreiber in The Sum Of All Fears. In Without Remorse, the first in a planned franchise kicking off the Rainbow Six saga, Michael B Jordan bulks up and muscles his way through what turns out to be a fairly pedestrian shoot-’em-up soldier actioner, which may leave action fans satisfied in many respects but casual viewers a touch flat.
After a mission to extract a hostage in Aleppo goes sour, US Navy SEAL Chief John Kelly (Jordan – Black Panther, Chronicle) finds himself entangled with Russian counterintelligence in the form of home-soil retribution. With his wife and unborn daughter murdered in reprisal attacks, Kelly, at the request of Defence Secretary Clay (Guy Pearce) and CIA Director Dillard (Lucy Russell), together with Lieutenant Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), and CIA Deputy Director Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) track the clues to their enemy through to a small Russian city, where they discover the real problem stems from somebody back in Washington.
As much as I was desperately keen for Without Remorse to deliver on its promise of hard-hitting espionage thrills and the setup of an ongoing franchise for Jack Ryan’s less familiar hero, the sum of all fears about the end result is one of disappointment. While Michael B Jordan delivers a committed performance, and there are a number of minor shocks betwixt the requisite action sequences, the dreary direction and cinematography, together with a derivative and flat storyline, fail to ignite like they should. Directed by Stefano Sollima, who more recently gave us the mixed-review Sicario sequel, Day of The Soldado, the ballet of bullets, the gritty, urban violence and realism in death, and the sheer lack of tension in a lot of what transpires is an enormous missed opportunity.
Sollima peppers the film with some quite inelegant brutality, showcasing the deadliness of combat, the quickness of death and the often blandness in which violence can occur in the most mundane of scenarios. The film flavours in a John Wick violent aesthetic, a Paul Greengrass approach to action choreography (only, with less coherence), and despite acting his absolute ass off Michael B Jordan never quite makes it as a leading-man hero type. The dude can act, and runs rings around everyone else on screen (including, I should add, the normally reliable Jamie Bell) but his murky screen presence in this story, with this character, fails to manifest as somebody we can really invest in. Guy Pearce is solid in defence as Secretary Clay, whilst Jodie Turner-Smith almost – almost mind you – fails to completely sell the hard-ass SEAL commander she is but scrapes through with clenched jaw and raw determination. Bit parts to Cam Gigandet, Jack Kesy and Todd Lasance as operatives Kelly works with during his various missions are the definition of faceless support acts, offering neither compelling side characterisations or memorable emotional hinges for various plot points to swing on.
The film is often quite visually drab, smothered in darkness accentuating Jordan’s character’s emotional state, but it does occasionally make working out what’s going on a little difficult. Legendary DOP Philippe Rousselot (Oscar-winner for A River Runs Through It, as well as work on the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes franchise, and Tim Burton’s Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, among others) seems to have smeared dirt on the lens of his cameras here, the stark fluorescent lights of Washington and a penitentiary John Kelly ends up briefly contrasting with the neon and dusk hued Russian and European settings elsewhere in the movie, but always feeling like a blanket or a weight is pushing down on the viewer. Editorially the film works as well as it can, with the action sequences feeling energetic and compelling in spite of things working against them, and kudos to Matthew Newman for cutting the Russian apartment building shootout to make it comprehensible. Also adding to the mess is the overbearing and occasionally predictable score by Icelandic composer Jonsi, which never fails to ensure you know when all the action moments are coming.
Without Remorse is an action thriller that misses its opportunity for cathartic revenge, and lacks even the most basic elements it needs: thrills, and compelling action. As mentioned, Michael B Jordan does a fine job in executing his role but he’s saddled with a cumbersomely stupid premise, silly (and obvious) plot twists, and plentifully inadequate dialogue and exposition. The mid-credit sting setting up future films seems cheap and tacked on (the film isn’t better or worse for having it, which means it’s not required) and in all honesty I spent far too long checking the remaining runtime than I did enjoying the movie. It doesn’t pack the punch needed to equal a modern action classic, nor does it tap into the nostalgia for Clancy’s other established properties when that could only have helped: Without Remorse is exactly what I felt turning this one off just as the closing credits started.
The whole thing just felt…. indecisive, confused and in desperate need of a reason to exist. Smashing together plot points from other genre films of the last thirty years, throwing a hot young actor into it and calling it a success isn’t exactly pleasing to audiences, and the whiff of mediocrity here isn’t one you can wash away. That it sat so long in development hell is telling, really. Without Remorse should have stayed there.