MOVIE REVIEW – A muscular Michael B. Jordan lets his rage show in Without Remorse, adapted from a novel by Tom Clancy. An action film that could well launch a new genre saga on Amazon Prime Video. At least, that’s what they hope. What about us?
You could swear that Without Remorse is one of those testosterone-fuelled action films that were rented in video shops twenty years ago. And yet it is a new film. In Without Remorse, this old-fashioned feel is not unpleasant, on the contrary. With its solid direction, Without Remorse has only one goal: to show a fight where the good guys win in the end.
It follows the story of John Clark (Michael B. Jordan), a special forces marine. After a top-secret operation in Syria, he and his unit are targeted by the Russian military. The Russians murder John Clark’s wife. With the help of his superior Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Robert Ritter, a mysterious CIA agent (Jamie Bell), John Clark will seek revenge, even if it means causing international chaos.
The “other one”
In Tom Clancy’s universe, there are two characters: Jack Ryan the cerebral, whose screen incarnations are countless and who is currently entitled to a series on Amazon Prime (it’s a small world…), and John Clarke, his much more “in-your-face, let’s talk later” counterpart. Until today, the latter has mostly appeared on-screen to help his friend, Ryan, under the guise of Willem Dafoe (Immediate Danger in 1994) and Liev Scheiber (The Sum of All Fears in 2002).
Seeing the potential of this anti-hero, the cinema has been looking to bring him to the screen alone since the release of a novel dedicated to his origin story, Without Remorse, in 1993. A long wait, multiple actors mentioned and in the end, it took the arrival on the project of its main actor and (for the first time) producer, Michael B. Jordan, to finally get the ball rolling. And the fact that this film initially planned for the cinema, is finally on the streaming platform is perhaps not a bad thing…
Revenge is the keyword
In Without Remorse, returning from a mission overseas, John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan), a special forces soldier, is attacked in his home. He survives, but his pregnant wife is dead. In search of revenge and ready for anything, he tries to track down the killers and their backers with the help of his superior (Jodie Turner-Smith), a C.I.A. agent (Jamie Bell) and a police officer. (Jamie Bell) and a government official (Guy Pearce). Along the way, Kelly must remember one thing: he shouldn’t have survived.
You can expect to see some major differences between it and this adaptation for those of you who have read the original novel. This freedom is not surprising, as we know that every Tom Clancy adaptation has used the same largesse. In Without Remorse, the source material serves more to offer screenwriters Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and Will Staples support on which to engrave their own ideas to offer the protagonist his universe (for the moment) not shared with Ryan. Almost inevitably, the playground of the Vietnam war for Kelly (future Clarke) is transposed here to a contemporary and, by the same token, timeless territory.
Without any remorse and without any risk
As far as the script is concerned, it’s hard to be more generic. Anyone who has ever seen a film where the words “government”, “C.I.A.” and “conspiracy” are mentioned knows exactly what’s going to happen in Without Remorse. We follow a well-trodden path where Kelly goes up the food chain following the genre’s specifications. And it’s written with such application that it becomes amusing to see the film try to surprise when even the characterisation of the characters and the actors chosen to embody them leave no doubt about the real motivations. Because it’s well known that in a conspiracy movie, the nicest guy is often the good guy in the story and vice versa (no, never).
One could denounce a clumsiness if it had been unintentional (and because one knows a minimum of the screenwriter’s talent). But the script of Without Remorse has only one goal: to create the beginnings of a saga by avoiding the slightest unfortunate initiative. We are faced with a script that is functional from start to finish, with each scene and each protagonist having a precise objective and no freedom to go beyond the framework. From this point of view, the film is a success because it simply applies a proven recipe and does it well; like a diligent civil servant doing his job before going home. We would have liked it better, we could have had worse.
Clean action, without tension
Beware, however, that the action still has to be well done. Here again, it seems that Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Cartel Wars) is also restricted to cleanliness. Whether it’s hand-to-hand or weapon in hand, it’s effective, but without tension. We see everything (even at night), we enjoy it, but we never get that little extra that would give its sequences a real sparkle. A film that is more applied than involved, in short. Some will say it’s not enough, but those who saw the last Bruce Willis film on the same platform will say it’s a lot.