Directed By Stefano Sollima
Starring – Michael B. Jordan, Jodie Turner-Smith, Jamie Bell
The Plot – When a squad of Russian soldiers kills his family in retaliation for his role in a top-secret op, Sr. Chief John Kelly (Jordan) pursues the assassins at all costs. Joining forces with a fellow SEAL (Turner-Smith) and a shadowy CIA agent (Bell), Kelly’s mission unwittingly exposes a covert plot that threatens to engulf the U.S. and Russia in an all-out war. Torn between personal honor and loyalty to his country, Kelly must fight his enemies without remorse if he hopes to avert disaster and reveal the powerful figures behind the conspiracy.
Rated R for scenes of violence and adult language
– Synthetic direction. For Sollima, this is once again another chance to team with critically acclaimed writer Taylor Sheridan after their 2018 mediocre sequel “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”, but while that film attained what level of personality and distinction that it got in the form of Sheridan’s detailed approach to the environment and the characters, it’s Sollima who steals the shine in this latest chapter of Tom Clancy cinematic adaptations. For starters, the action here is constantly riveting and full of engagement, mainly for the multitude of urgency and vulnerability that Stefano instills to the dynamic of the narrative. In addition to this, the abundance of humanity etched in vulnerability is something that I greatly appreciated in fleshing out a protagonist who would otherwise feel unstoppably bland, thus maintaining the finely illustrated stakes hanging in the balance from an enhancing intensity that Stefano ranges accordingly within each passing event.
– Leading lad. While roughly 95% of these characters were easily disposable for me, it’s Jordan’s turn as John Kelly that constantly kept me entertained while sifting through the dexterity of skillset that the character embodies. Aside from Michael being a physical specimen, maintaining the chiseled physique that was clearly evident in both Creed films, it’s the intelligence for strategy and fearless demeanor that mostly defines the character. This is where the emotional side of his portrayal feels most evident because it allows Jordan the competence to carefully balance confidence and focus with eyes to the soul that convey this man’s overwhelming sorrow feeling only seconds from getting the best of him, and swallowing him whole. Jordan is easily believable in the role, and when coupled with the dedication to getting his hands dirty by doing every single one of his impressive stunts, solidifies a new presence in box office action that may be the first in what I hope is many accommodating chapters for years to come.
– Easy pacing. Clocking in at 100 minutes, “Without Remorse” very rarely relents in its mission to instill pulse-setting cinema at the drop of more than a few exhilarating climaxes throughout its presentation. The script wastes very little time getting its feet wet, immediately drawing us into John’s world of counter-terrorism, complete with bullet-riddled battlegrounds and psychological spontaneity that keeps our protagonist’s back against the wall. From there, we get a few scenes of pivotal exposition, but this is a film that attains comfort in knowing exactly what it is, and what it requires to keep its audience happy as they remain focused all the way to the finish line. Because of such, the second half of the movie is definitely much more engaging, sifting through an ever-changing conflict and shifting pieces to the puzzle all in the way of two war-torn geographic adversaries who hang in the balance. It was an easy one sit watch for me, and one that I’m grateful didn’t reach for the same two hour objective that often condemns those films, and makes an inescapably redundant experience for the audience.
– Energetic thrills. There’s much to appreciate about the variety of action set pieces that the movie rigorously sifts through, complete with swift choreography and patient editing that brings out the best in the movie’s production. On the latter of those sentiments, there are more than a few long takes in these physical engagements between two or as many as eight characters at any given time, so the necessity to document it in a way that bridges continuity all the while bottling the anxiety of the momentum that shapes and bends with each devastating blow, is most important. Cap it off with an echoing sound design that elevates the intensity and the influence of its arsenal, and you have a cinematic experience that will flourish remarkably more with the bigger sound system that you choose to watch it on. My favorite is definitely a slowly turning airplane sequence that slowly becomes engulfed with rising water levels. It’s accurate on its laws of gravity, endearing in its brand of fighting creativity, and immersive for the way the cinematography caters toward its many shifts along the way.
– Clancy encoded. When I watch A Tom Clancy adaptation, I want to be enveloped by the social commentary that stems as a result of the protagonist and his surrounding environment, but also within the context of a gifted writer who has made a career of such themes. In this regard, “Without Remorse” feels gift-wrapped for such a designation, taking us through multiple nation’s relationships with one another, as well as conspiracy theories that could spell turmoil from opposing forces who still revel in distrust more than thirty years after the Cold War ended. Clancy and screenwriter Sheridan use this element of reality from our own world to make our own nightmares come to fruition, and it creates another in the magnifying stakes and circumstances that initially feels personal to one man with his own agenda, and then elevates universally because of these intimately combustible elements that emit resounding consequences. Political thrillers are for a specific audience, but when I’m in the mood for one, I reach for a Clancy adaptation, and when coupled with Sheridan’s tactical approach to dramatic tension really creates a narrative that is the best of both worlds from these literary geniuses.
– Fan service. There’s certainly nothing wrong with including a few key characters and references to past Clancy novels, especially considering “Without Remorse” serves as a spin-off to the Jack Ryan universe, and all of its connective tissue. For the film, it’s very much there, but introduced in a way that not only makes sense within the rhythm of the storytelling, but also one that is respectful enough to not use it as a crutch to fight against how little this film has going for it creatively. As someone who isn’t the most dedicated fan of Clancy novels, but appreciates his unique voice enough for making a legendary career out of it, I can say that I was competently able to distinguish the clever winks and nods along the way, all the while projecting that none of it will make or break the film for you in terms of your lack of ability to follow along because of your inexperience. It’s just a way of expanding this universe that serves as a reminder of the plans of things still to come.
– Clunky storytelling. Because this is a film that has been in development hell for over a decade, it can’t escape the convoluted consequences that come as a result of many cooks in the proverbial kitchen of this movie’s creative process. This chaos can be felt during a couple of plot lines that are introduced and then never followed through on, or followed through in a way that feels generally inconsequential to the overall resolution of the film. From there, a side quest while in prison feels like it often takes away a little momentum towards the integrity of the narrative, which remains mostly focused around this twenty minute gap of insignificance in the middle of the film. It didn’t bore me or weigh heavily on my interest of the film, but it’s certainly evident enough to understand how the movie would’ve been better without it, especially since it kind of falsifies the intelligence that Kelly constantly has, but lets this momentary inconvenience get in the way of his road to revenge.
– Flat climax. There’s definitely a resolution in the movie’s pivotal third act, but it’s one that doesn’t even come close to resonating with the impact of a conflict throughout the film that felt much more universal. Part of this can be blamed on a two part execution of the pay-off, where a predictable twist is inserted a bit too late in the film, for my money. The bigger problem, however, is in the lack of struggle and afterthought emphasis that pertains to the big reveal between “Pawn and King” that leaves more to be desired with respect to vulnerability to the surrounding characters. It’s easily relatable to a video game where you fight your ass off through four hours of gameplay, only to have a cake walk through the final boss. In cinematic terms, it wastes away the payoff in the way it doesn’t fully articulate the pay-off in the grief that one character particularly should feel, and serves as the one element of Sollima’s direction that I wish was a little tighter in its clarity.
– Familiar elements. Without distracting too much from my experience in the initial story movements, there were more than a few glaring instances of derivative nature within the context of this story that I wish the writers took more time diversifying against an audience that have seen these instances in many better films before. These ingredients unfortunately make for an experience that is inescapably predictable on the direction of the three act structure, especially considering a property as recent as “The Punisher” feels as fresh in our minds, and led to many successors along the way that ripped off its engaging formula. “Without Remorse is the latest in this ever-growing folder, and makes for an engagement that plays it a bit too by the book for mine or anyone’s taste, I’m sure.
– Audible idiosyncrasies. Plenty to unload here, especially the movie’s sound design outside action sequences, which presented some horrific instances of audio deposit. This of course means that words are heard clearly and concise while a character’s mouth barely moves if even at all. This then leads to a few line reads, particularly during the hospitalization scene, which are so muffled in their deliveries that I can’t imagine they were the best scene for the interpretation of the audience. I can understand doing it for a character who is hospitalized, but when I have to turn on my closed captioning for supportive on-screen text just to understand what character’s are saying, you know you’ve got a problem. Finally, the dialogue in the film that is written by video game writer Will Staples, feels entirely too one-dimensional by blurring the lines of believability between video game and fictional cinema. Most of it feels cut and dry, especially when establishing these realistic personalities that never feel like they truly believe what they are conveying, and only serve as intentional toward getting us to that next riveting set piece.
My Grade: 6/10 or C+