Without Remorse movie review: Michael B Jordan's Tom Clancy adaptation is a wet dynamite
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse does the bare minimum to stand out in an already cluttered genre of rogue spies seeking vengeance.
castMichael B Jordan, Jodie Turner-smith, Jamie Bell, Guy Pearce, Brett Gelman, Lauren London
There's something to be said about Michael B Jordan lying on a hospital bed, with tubes emerging from his body, him sniffling under them, while also taking deep breaths. We've seen him do it in the Creed films, and then we also saw a version of his heavy-breathing breakdown in Ryan Coogler's Black Panther. He does it again in Stefano Sollima's Without Remorse, based on Tom Clancy's novel of the same name. Whether it is as the rage-filled Killmonger, who fights back tears upon meeting the spirit of his father, or as the battered, betrayed Adonis Creed who asks Rocky Balboa to leave his hospital ward, Jordan brings a beautiful restraint to his breakdowns. One that nearly spills into melodrama, but not quite. In the latest Tom Clancy adaptation, where Jordan plays a Black-Ops soldier John Kelly, he's once again tasked with breaking down after news of a personal tragedy is relayed to him. However, it doesn't feel nearly as effective as it did in Jordan's earlier films.
Director Sollima and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, after borrowing from the big-screen personas of Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro for an ill-conceived sequel to Denis Villenuve's Sicario, have teamed up once again for a franchise film that does the bare minimum to stand out in an already cluttered genre of rogue spies seeking vengeance. Without Remorse could have actually riffed on the many direct-to-TV releases from the 90s, with believable emotional beats, lean action set-pieces, and a protagonist who makes it out alive of most dire situations. It could have been a fun action film, unfortunately Sollima's film tries to seem smart, instead of embracing (perhaps even celebrating) its dumbness. What we get, in the end, is a glum action movie that over-relies on its 'movie star' and its set-pieces to rescue the bogged-down, assembly line narrative. Without Remorse is the kind of film where a high-value Russian individual is described as "full-on untouchable", only to be intercepted by our protagonist in the very next scene with a few simple manoeuvres.
In the beginning of the film, John Kelly takes part in a mission in Aleppo, Syria, where he helps rescue a CIA hostage, exchanging gunfire with the Russian military in the process. Making it out alive, once Kelly and his team-mates are back home, armed individuals start picking them out one by one. The assailants even attack Kelly's residence, where they accidentally kill his wife, Pam (Lauren London). Barely escaping death, Kelly shoots all the assailants except one, and gets seriously wounded. Expectedly, once he recovers from the home invasion, it becomes his life's mission to find out that last assailant who lived. He's motivated by the deaths of his pregnant wife and his unborn daughter, a classic shtick from a bygone era, but it never feels 'real' here.Unlike Bond’s trauma after the betrayal and death of Vesper (towards the end of Casino Royale, and throughout the running time of Quantum of Solace), Kelly’s ‘reasons’ are there for us to see. But we never quite ‘feel’ his grief.
Usually, one can gauge the merit of a film like this, by seeing how it treats its supporting cast. Jamie Bell and Guy Pearce, two solid Hollywood mainstays, are wasted in underwritten roles. Bell plays the role of a CIA operative, Ritter, who commands Kelly's team of Navy SEALs to take part in opaque operations. Pearce, on the other hand, plays the role of Secretary Clay, a politician who helps Kelly on his path of retribution. Brett Gelman, who was memorable as Martin in hit TV show Fleabag, plays the part of Victor Rykov, a Russian spy being used by the US for counter-terrorism measures. It's an alarmingly brief role, where he's on screen for exactly one scene. None of these parts are anywhere near the yardsticks of the genre like Mark Strong in Body Of Lies, or Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Mission Impossible III.
Without Remorse has one or two interesting action sequences, like one where Kelly sets a car on fire and then enters it to interrogate a suspect. Or the one where he takes on a large part of the Russian police force and the paramilitary by himself, so that his fellow soldiers can escape from the scene. The action has the same heavy artillery sound design in many 'gritty' thrillers made by Tony Scott and Michael Mann during the 90s. Michael B Jordan's physical preparedness for the role is never in question, however, he never fully becomes a character with an arc. We never quite identify with his sorrow, and therefore aren't invested in his thirst for revenge.
Sollima's film aspires to be the lithe action narrative, something we've seen quite a lot in recent times. Like John Wick, Extraction, or even this year’s Nobody, a film that tries to refashion Bob Odenkirk as an action star, but Without Remorse never seems to reckon with the pulpy nature of its dated source material. One does get a feeling that such a novel would have worked better in the hands of a Tony Scott. Unlike Scott, Sollima never really nails the emotional beats of the action film, thereby making the narrative a two-hour slog. With the genre already overpopulated with Bond, Ethan Hunt, Jason Bourne, John Wick, one really wonders if there is space for a John Kelly. If this franchise (miraculously) does yield another film, one will hope that the ingredients are a bit more shaken. Not stirred.
Without Remorse will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on 30 April.
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