April 30, 2021 Without Remorse (Movie Review)
Almost 30 years after its release, the Tom Clancy novel Without Remorse finally gets adapted for the big screen…kind of. The likes of Keanu Reeves and Tom Hardy had been attached to the project over the years, but in 2018 Paramount Studios put Michael B. Jordan (Creed 2015, Black Panther 2018) in the role of John Kelly (aka John Clark)- the next big Clancy protagonist after Jack Ryan and Sam Fisher.
If the pandemic was not a thing, the film would have come out in cinemas in 2020. Instead, it arrives on Amazon Prime from April 30th, 2021 onwards. Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado 2018, ACAB- All Cops Are Bastards 2012) took care of directing duties, while Taylor Sheridan (Sicario 2015, Wind River 2017) and Will Staples (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 videogame, Sweet Girl 2021) reworked a 1990s script for the 21st Century.
The film follows John Kelly (Jordan), a Navy SEAL trying to settle back down into suburban life with his pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London: I Love You Beth Cooper 2009, Baggage Claim 2013). Then his house is attacked by Russian hitmen retaliating against Kelly for a skirmish in Syria. He fights them, taking out all but one, who kills Pam and leaves him for dead. He survives and seeks revenge for Pam’s death. Then he gets his chance when US Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce: L.A Confidential 1999, Memento 2002) sends him on a mission to find the last hitman and take him out. Kelly is up for it, yet suspects the government may have ulterior motives.
It is a departure from the book, where Kelly waged a one-man war on Baltimore’s drug scene to avenge the death of a prostitute he fell in love with. All in between taking part in the Vietnam War and dealing with the Soviets. Clancy fans will not get to see that on-screen, not even with ‘Vietnam’ and ‘Soviets’ whited-out and replaced with ‘Iraq’ and ‘ISIS.’ It is more of an original tale with some names and plot points taken from the book. Basically, the book got the Blade Runner treatment.
Except the dusty parts of the ’90s script still show, as the twists are rather clichéd. Like something people would have seen 20 years ago in the 24 series, or in videogame series like Metal Gear Solid, or Splinter Cell– another Clancy project. Yet even compared to them, Without Remorse comes off as generic. There is a sniper trap scene that is similar to one in the first Metal Gear Solid game from 1998. Even back then, the game called it ‘the oldest trick in the book.’
That is not to say it is not done well. The action scenes are all technically fine, and even get tense from time to time. Most notably the prison fight sequence, the ocean gear retrieval, and Kelly’s ‘unique’ interrogation methods. They just are not anything people have not seen before. They might even be questionable in an age where cops are too willing to ‘cross the line,’ let alone actual military men. It may just be a film, but some people- including the authorities- have trouble telling cinema from reality.
So, it is a stock Action film with some old tropes and dodgy morals. It would not be the first or only one. Yet it does have something that elevates it from a mediocre 2.5 star rating. Jordan goes above and beyond in his performance here. He really gives Kelly a heart and soul, and reacts like they are torn during the character’s darkest moments without it feeling hammy. His acting makes one wish the film was all drama- just an ex-SEAL dealing with trauma both from the field and at home. He has sweet chemistry with London in their brief scenes together, which gets especially touching during the dream sequences.
The rest of the cast do okay too. Jodie Turner-Smith (The Neon Demon 2016, Queen & Slim 2019) puts in the next best performance after Jordan, and has a strong rapport with him throughout. Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot 2000, TURN: Washington’s Spies series) makes for a good, slimy government official too, as does Pearce’s Clay. Everyone else does not get much to do, with both of Kelly’s units being extra bodies to shoot and/or get hit by bullets while shouting.
While Without Remorse is not without merit, there is not much to sell it on. The plot is nothing special, neither is the action, and the implications can be concerning. Yet Jordan goes for gold in the role and does his best to pull the film up when it sags. Back in 2018, Paramount sources said they already had a sequel in mind- an adaptation of Rainbow Six. If it goes ahead, it will need more than Jordan bringing his A-game. Otherwise it will be another ho-hum Action flick lucky enough to have a lead giving the material more than it deserves. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Without Remorse 3 out of 5 stars.