Adapting the works of the late Tom Clancy seems to be hit or miss. While his novels have sold millions and are often considered some of the best in military/political thrillers published while he was alive, the adaptations of his works have often failed to capture what made him such a prolific and popular author. When it comes to adapting a Tom Clancy story though, the protagonist is always Jack Ryan, who currently has his own TV series on Amazon Prime Video. Now, after securing a deal with Paramount, that studio is bringing us the first in a new franchise. However, this time it’s with series veteran John Kelly, played here by Michael B. Jordan. But does Amazon strike gold with this adaptation or should you avoid Without Remorse?
Jordan stars as Clark, a Navy SEAL who opens the movie on a tried and clichéd “one last job”. From the get-go, the mission doesn’t go as planned thanks to the CIA officer in charge of the mission, Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) withholding information for his own reasons. Three months later, nearly everyone and their families involved with that opening mission in Syria are found dead-except John Kelly, who survived the attack. With his wife and unborn child dead as a result of the attack, Kelly goes rogue and begins to investigate why his family died, which naturally leads to a much larger conspiracy. What follows is action, investigation and a lot of cliché.
If you’ve read the Tom Clancy novel of the same name, then none of this will sound familiar to you. That’s because Without Remorse only shares a title and a few characters with the novel, not the plot. Despite changing so much from the book in an attempt to modernize Clancy’s work, the movie feels incredibly dated. This is likely due to Without Remorse being in development hell since the 90s, with various actors and directors being attached to or considered to the movie at one point or another, including Tom Hardy, Keanu Reeves and Mission: Impossible director Christopher McQuarrie. This updated version still feels 90s, with Russian villains, a Cold War vibe and plot twists that can be seen a mile away. Military/spy action-thrillers have come a long way since the 90s and this film never reaches that potential that has been seen in other films over the past twenty years, despite the talented cast.
Bringing Without Remorse to life is director Stefano Sollima and co-writer Taylor Sheridan, the duo behind Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Sollima is a fairly new director to Hollywood and this film actually feels like a step backwards compared to his somewhat competent follow-up to the excellent Sicario (which Sheridan also wrote and is a prime example of action thrillers done right). Sheridan is one of the few writers in Hollywood who actually generates buzz, thanks to his work on Yellowstone, Hell or High Water and his nine-figure exclusivity deal with ViacomCBS. But this film lacks all the nuance of his previous work. For a writer who once stated he’s allergic to exposition, this film has quite a bit of it, which bogs it down and makes it feel lazy and uninspired. Sheridan co-wrote the feature with Will Staples, who penned Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and it’s unclear how much of the movie belongs to either man, but Without Remorse feels nothing like Sheridan’s previous work and more like a lifeless video game cutscene. Also, and this isn’t a dealbreaker or anything, but the film is rated R but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. The violence wasn’t that intense and there was barely any blood to the shootouts, if any at all. The editing made it feel like it should be an R-rated film, but the imagery didn’t warrant it in my opinion.
Leading man Michael B. Jordan does the best with what he’s given. Other actors have played John Kelly before, from Willem Dafoe to Liev Schreiber, but Without Remorse is the first time the character has taken center stage. He excels in the film’s many action scenes, especially the hand-to-hand combat, but his character feels boring due to how much of a walking cliché he is and how subdued the character is. He lacks the charisma that Jordan is often known for. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare so well either, whether it be Bell’s smug CIA officer, Jodie Turner-Smith’s uninspiring Karen Greer (Admiral James Greer’s niece for those familiar with Clancy’s universe) and Guy Pearce’s boring Thomas Clay. The amount of “been there, done that” with this movie is exhausting, from the “one last job” pitch, shady government officials, the loss of family leading to a revenge spree and the tried and true Russian bad guys for an action film in an era where the Russians haven’t been the go-to movie baddies in years. The whole process feels dry and the pacing of the movie doesn’t help this feeling.
Without Remorse ends with a mid-credit scene teasing more of these movies to come, but I’m not incredibly excited for the future of this franchise with the team currently working on it. This film and John Krasinski’s Jack Ryan series are both available on Amazon but we don’t know if they exist in the same universe or if they’ll ever crossover like they have in the past. Tom Clancy adaptations are hit or miss and this is another tick in the “miss” category. If you’re seeking to scratch that itch this weekend, you’d probably be better off playing one of the many well-reviewed Tom Clancy video games or just rewatching The Hunt for Red October instead.