There is just something about Tom Clancy novels and their adaptations that never seem to fully work in the modern era of cinema. In the 1980s, the Jack Ryan character was successfully brought to audiences in The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, and Patriot Games, with each bringing their own style and flair to the spy genre, as well as great leading men at the helm of the project. But since those successes, Hollywood has never been able to strike the match and bring a good Clancy movie back to the big screen, and with this latest entry from Amazon Prime, it seems the bad streak will continue for yet another project.
Without Remorse follows Senior Chief John Clark (Michael B. Jordan) of the United States Navy SEALs, a confident leader of men and women, who tasked to lead these soldiers into battle, regardless of the situation. John is the best at what he does (which he has to be given the genre tropes found within a movie like this) and is a valuable asset to have on your side. When he and his group are tasked by CIA officer Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) to rescue a hostage in the Middle East, he stumbles into a messy altercation with Russian assassins and must fight his way through.
Flash forward a couple of months, where John is back home with his wife, enjoy his simple, quiet life outside of his intense job. But things don’t stay this way for long, as the Russians he crossed overseas have come stateside and successfully kill the surviving members of his team as well as his wife. With nothing but anger and vengeance on his side, John must become a machine, hell bent on bringing his form of justice to those who took everything he held near and dear to his life. While doing this, he also discovers a more sinister plot between our government and the Russians, thus forcing John to only trust himself and his instincts to get his mission completed.
If that plot summation above sounded familiar, that’s because it is. We have seen this movie before, where a man goes on a rampage to avenge the death of his wife or someone else that is really close to them. The story feels like a mixture between John Wick and Sicario, which isn’t shocking considering the writer and director team behind this project, Taylor Sheridan and Stefano Sollima. Both of these men worked together on Sicario: Day of the Soldado under the same roles as writer and director, and just like that film, Without Remorse is an uninteresting slog that is only saved by its lead actor giving a fairly decent performance.
Though the highlight of the project, there is still something limiting Michael B. Jordan from taking this role and turning it into something great. Sure, he is able to find the emotional connections needed for the audience to sympathize with John Clark and his mission, but it’s not because of the character he is playing, rather it’s because Jordan is one of the most talented actors working today and audiences have grown to love him. Maybe that is why he is here, considering a project like this could elevate his superstar status even along with his resume that includes franchises like the MCU and Creed. One would also gather that working with Sheridan, an Academy Award nominated writer, would allow you to explore more internal and external work similarly to his breakout performance in Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station. He is the show here, through and through, and while the script is so thin, Jordan does the best he can and it’s entertaining as always to see him on screen.
The major issues in the script of Without Remorse are also the continuing complaints and limitations shown in other Sheridan projects. He excels in tension and having his main characters deal with their emotions in a cathartic way. But for the supporting characters, especially the females, they are props in the way or assisting Jordan’s John in getting to his end goal. There is no nuance or realistic chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and his co-stars Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, and Guy Pearce, making every scene they are in with him tedious and eye rolling. There is no doubt that these are all talented people that are ultimately wasted by a storyteller who can’t seem to write consistent individual character arcs throughout a nearly two-hour run time.
Then there is Sollima, who at this point, feels like a rip-off version of Denis Villeneuve, whom both he and Sheridan need to give credit to because it’s Villeneuve’s vision and style they have copied since the original Sicario came out. Surely Sollima might have something up his sleeve from the directing chair someday that could speak to all of us but until then, this is just another misfire from him, with uninspired action sequences mixed with cinematography that isn’t very kind on the eyes.
Without Remorse is another non-starter Tom Clancy project with only the lead actor taking the assignment seriously while everyone else falters. There is going to be more adaptations of Clancy’s work, as he is one of the most successful writers to have ever lived, but there is a disconnect between what worked so well with these properties a couple of decades ago. Maybe it is the lack of an entertaining, consistent tone or it’s just lazy screenwriting and directing. Perhaps audiences have grown from these stories and don’t need to see them so often. Whatever it is moving forward, if more are going to grace us with their presence, try a little better at surrounding your talented lead with the right people who can get the job done.
Amazon Prime will release Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse on Amazon Prime Video this Friday, April 30.
Photo: Nadja Klier