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Josh Reviews Without Remorse

June 14th, 2021

I was very excited when it was first announced that Michael B. Jordan would be starring in a feature adaptation of Tom Clancy’s novel Without Remorse.  I recently watched the film, streaming on Amazon Prime.  It’s a solid mid-level action movie, but I must confess that I had hoped for better.

I’ve never read Mr. Clancy’s novel, but from what I know of the book, this film seems to have completely reinvented the story.  Michael B. Jordan plays John Kelly, a Navy SEAL who, as the film opens, is involved with his team in the dangerous rescue of a captured CIA operative.  Kelly and his team believe they’re rescuing the CIA agent from Syrians, but the group turn out to be Russian military.  In revenge, the Russians hunt down and kill most of Kelly’s team, and also his pregnant wife.  Kelly is grievously injured but survives, and with the help of his friend Karen Greer (whose uncle is Jack Ryan’s friend Jim Greer), he sets out to find the Russians.  Greer wants to stop a potentially violent group, while Kelly is out for revenge…

Michael B. Jordan is, as always, great.  He has a magnetic charisma that commands the screen.  His physical presence is impressive, but more impressive is how he can bring a rich inner life to the characters he portrays.  What works in Without Remorse is mostly a credit to Mr. Jordan.  He’s inspired casting for this character (who will become John Clark, an important character in the Tom Clancy universe).  The force of his personality pulled me, as an audience member, into the film.  He elevates what is otherwise just a so-so action movie.

There’s a lot of plot in this film, but I didn’t feel it came together in a way that made much sense, or that felt natural and smooth.  I found a lot of problems.  We don’t get to know Kelly’s team well enough at the start of the film for their deaths to carry much weight.  On the other hand, I was extremely bummed by the murder of Kelly’s pregnant wife.  In 2021, haven’t we moved beyond the idea of having a woman’s murder be used as the inspiring incident for a male hero?  Enough of that already.  The film eventually builds to the idea that someone is trying to provoke the United States and Russia into war, which is a sort of hokey James Bond villain premise that the movie never really sells.  (Also, the identity of the behind-the-scenes villain is painfully easy to guess.)

The cast is solid but I didn’t feel the characters were developed as deeply as I’d hoped.  I loved Jodie Turner-Smith’s work as Karen Greer, and I enjoyed the way the film established her as an equally skilled peer of Kelly’s.  But I wish the film had dug deeper into their friendship and history together.  I wanted to get a better sense of their bond.  (Here’s a small but telling example, in my opinion, of the film’s shortcomings: Kelly and Greer do some sort of comradely arm-grasp a few times in the film, but weirdly those moments were always shot so I couldn’t really see what they were doing.  Metaphor for the film’s problems, maybe?)  Jamie Bell is a terrific actor, but for some reason he plays Robert Ritter as an over-the-top evil scumbag for most of the film.  (Was that a poor acting choice, or bad direction or editing?)  While I liked seeing Ritter and Kelly reach an uneasy mutual respect late in the film, I wanted to better understand what was up with Ritter, what he wanted and why he was behaving the way he was.  Guy Pearce is always fun, and he’s a compelling presence as the Secretary of Defense.  Brett Gelman (seen recently in Stranger Things) is in the film for two seconds, and beyond that we didn’t really get to know any of the other characters.

There’s some terrific action in the film.  There’s a very memorable mid-movie airplane crash-landing into water, followed by a very tense underwater sequence in which Kelly tries desperately to retrieve critical equipment and escape with his life from the sinking wreckage.  I also really enjoyed the tense third-act shootout in a Russian apartment complex.  Though even that had some problems, in my opinion, as I felt the movie eventually lost any grasp on the geography of the sequence.  Somehow Kelly and Greer move from being trapped in one apartment to being in the different building across the street from where the snipers were shooting… and then back again to the original building… without any explanation that I could understand.

When this film was announced, it was as part of a two-movie John Clark series, to be followed by an adaptation of Rainbow Six.  Will that happen?  (I suspect the filmmakers want it to, hence the mid-credits stinger tease…)  I’d like to see further adventures in the Tom Clancy universe (will we ever get a third season of the Jack Ryan show??  The second season disappointed me, but I quite enjoyed the first one), and I’d be very happy to see Michael B. Jordan continue to play this role.  But I’d like to see a better-executed film next time, with more fully-developed characters and a more coherent, exciting plot.

(I’d be thrilled to see a crossover adventure featuring both John Krasinski and Michael B. Jordan, though I doubt that would ever happen.  But nothing in the two franchises has yet contradicted one another.  John Clark — the name John Kelly assumes at the end of Without Remorse — has been in Mr. Krazinski’s Jack Ryan series, though the character has never been referred to by that name.  Instead, the character played by John Hoogenaker, who seems to be doing the things that the John Clark character did in the books, has been called Matice and Garth.  Was that done on purpose, so as not to conflict with Mr. Jordan’s John Clark film?  I don’t know…)

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