Starring: Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Jamie Bell (Rocketman), Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen & Slim), Bret Gelman (Stranger Things), Colman Domingo (Selma), Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3)
Director: Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado [AKA Sicario 2: Soldado])
Writers: Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) and Will Staples (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3)
Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes
Release Date: 30th April (Amazon Prime)
Every adaptation of Tom Clancy’s Ryanverse so far has only focused on the eponymous Jack Ryan, but the series has had several protagonists over the years and few more notable than John Clark. Featured as a supporting character in the film versions of Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears, efforts to start a solo series featuring the character have been going since the early 90s with actors like Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Tom Hardy attached to the role at various points; Hardy’s version was even meant to be a spin-off to the failed 2014 Ryan reboot Shadow Recruit. Now after decades of development hell, the origin story of how a former Navy SEAL became the legendary leader of Rainbow Six has finally arrived…and it’s pretty underwhelming.
An incredibly loose adaptation of the 1993 novel, Without Remorse is a standard espionage action thriller…and that’s all that really needs to be said. From its opening moments, the film quickly whips out the list of cliches and starts checking them off. A mission gone wrong, the tragic death of a family for motivation, an unhinged hero out for revenge, potential brink of war, doesn’t know who he can trust, yadda yadda yadda, you know where this is going. Save for a few standout moments and a timely thematic coda, the screenplay frankly feels like it was written on autopilot, but its formulaic plot could be forgiven if it had a unique style and moved at an entertaining clip. Unfortunately, the film delivers neither. Despite having a story only a few steps removed from GI Joe, Without Remorse takes itself way too seriously and moves at frustratingly leisurely place, with nearly half its runtime being set-up that could have been explained within twenty minutes. The second half picks up the pace a bit, but by that point it’s hard to even care what’s going on, and the film otherwise makes little effort to make itself stand out. By the time it reaches its sequel-baiting mid-credits scene, it’s hard to care about seeing the further adventures of John Clark if they’re going to be as generic and forgettable as this.
If there’s anything that keeps Without Remorse from being completely unremarkable, it’s Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Clark. Going by his birthname John Kelly for much of the runtime, Jordan throws himself into the role and creates a fascinating character with a lot of hidden potential. He’s an aggressive and often scary protagonist, pushing morality to its limits in order to complete his mission, but he never crosses that line where he truly becomes a villain. It’s clear Jordan (who is also a producer on the film) is passionate about the character and he gives it his all, and if given a script that actually had a little meat and spice to it, this could have been a career-defining role for him. Sadly, that’s not happened. The rest of the supporting cast acquit themselves well but don’t stand out. Jodie Turner-Smith continues to prove herself a rising star to watch as Kelly’s CO Karen Greer, Jamie Bell gives a somewhat confused performance as CIA operative Robert Ritter, whilst Guy Pearce is serviceable but unexceptional as Secretary of Defence Thomas Clay.
If there’s anything that can make an otherwise basic action movie memorable, it’s a few good set piece sequences. Without Remorse does have several of those, but beyond an intense jailhouse brawl where Jordan really shows off his chops, the sluggish pacing renders most of these scenes boring; that’s honestly the worst thing an action movie can be. A lot of these issues can be traced back to the editing, which seems to be trying to draw out and linger on shots to create suspense, but they only end up frustrating. An early sequence involving a raid on Kelly’s house is the most damning example, stretching out the build-up to the point of tedium and leaving the final impact blunted. Otherwise, the film is pretty unremarkable on a technical level, even with veteran cinematographer Phillipe Rousselot behind the lens and Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi doing the score; with the exception of Jordan, it’s like everything this film touches turns dull.
Without Remorse isn’t an unwatchable film, but it does very little to justify its existence beyond being yet another generic thriller with Tom Clancy’s name slapped on the poster. Michael B. Jordan has proved before he has the chops to be an action star, and his strong efforts here only affirm that, but this is unlikely going to be a role he’s going to be remembered for decades down the line. Unless you’re a diehard Clancy completist, give this one a miss and seek out one of the dozens of better films of its ilk; chances are whatever you pick will have more fun and originality than anything in this disappointing bore.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/10