Producers: Akiva Goldsman, Michael B. Jordan, Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Don Granger Director: Stefano Sollima Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jodie Turner-Smith, Jamie Bell, Brett Gelman, Jacobo Scipio, Jack Kesy, Colman Domingo, Todd Lasance, Cam Gigandet, Luke Mitchell, Merab Ninidze and Guy Pearce Distributor: Amazon Studios
Readers of Tom Clancy’s 1993 novel about John Clark, one of the main characters in his series centered on Jack Ryan, may have difficulty recognizing the book in Stefano Solima’s film: it has been updated and altered by screenwriters Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples to such a degree that the original plot has largely disappeared. Still, Clancy’s name appears prominently above the title here, which might raise issues of truth in advertising. But apart from die-hard Clancy fans, most viewers shouldn’t mind.
The novel was set in the Vietnam War era, and recounted how former Navy SEAL John Kelly did battle against drug dealers, pimps and traitors before being recruited by the CIA as Clark. In this reworking, Kelly is still a SEAL captain who, in conjunction with sketchy CIA operative Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), leads a mission into war-torn Syria to free a hostage from what he’s been told are government forces. He and his crew extricate the man, but his captors are not Syrians but Russians, and Kelly and his men kill a great many of them.
It soon becomes clear that this is not the end of the matter. Members of Kelly’s squad begin to die violent deaths back home at the hands of Russian mercenaries; a gang of black-clothed killers invade his house as well, murdering his pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London). In the struggle Clark is seriously wounded but manages to kill all the attackers but one, whom he unmasks before the man flees.
After a slow and torturous recovery, Clark takes matters into his own hands after he’s informed by Ritter and weak-kneed Defense Secretary Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce) that they consider the matter a tit-for-tat wash. In a rage he forces a Russian diplomat (Merab Ninidze, recently seen in “The Courier”) to reveal the name and location of the assassin, Victor Rykov (Brett Gelman). And though imprisoned as a result of his action, he compels Clay and Ritter to exonerate him and join his long-time colleague Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie-Turner Smith) and a passel of Special Ops guys in a mission to Murmansk to take him out.
If that were the end of the matter, “Without Remorse” would be awfully thin by Clancy standards. But of course it isn’t: Rykov proves to be part of a much broader conspiracy, one reaching to the upper echelons of the U.S. government, in which Ritter might be implicated. The nature and purpose of the plot is frankly absurd, though in the context of the mindset of today’s lunatic fringe and the nostalgia for the Soviet Union that prevails in some circles on both side of the old Iron Curtain, perhaps not so ridiculous after all.
In any event, the scenario concocted by Sheridan and Staples, pretty much out of thin air rather than Clancy’s tome, provides a succession of action set-pieces for viewers to gorge themselves on—the rescue operation in Syria, the attack on the Kelly home, the hero’s assault on the Russian diplomat at Dulles Airport, the plight of Kelly and his crew when their flight to Russia is shot down and they find themselves in danger of drowning, a shoot-out in Murmansk that practically obliterates a neighborhood. Machinations back in the States have a less brutal, more cerebral aspect, but rest assured that the guilty pay for their crimes.
Director Stefano Sollima, his stunt crew and the effects team pull off all these sequences with skill if not a great deal of imagination, and they’ve been edited decently by Matthew Newman. Otherwise Kevin Kavanaugh’s production design is competent enough, and Jónsi contributes a pulsating score to energize things. This is not, however, a big James Bond-style production; it was a mid-level production by Paramount before being sold off to Amazon.
What the movie does have going for it is Jordan, who can pull off all the action material with aplomb while adding an underlying sensitivity and depth. His excellence minimizes the discomfort when it comes time for the picture to preserve Clancy’s ending—in which Kelly becomes Clark, the secret CIA asset with further exploits in store. It clearly portends a sequel or two, and one is apparently in the pipeline. Jordan could easily shoulder the load.
Otherwise the cast is merely functional, with only Turner-Smith standing out. Bell is convincingly shifty and Pearce persuasively weak, but even they are curiously anonymous.
As action movies go, “Without Remorse” lacks distinction, but Jordan’s charisma almost makes it worth watching.