We have all seen the action movie where the soldier decides that the higher-ups have it all wrong and goes off on his own. We have all seen the action movie where the hero is unjustly sent to prison. We have all seen the one where the good guy repeatedly sacrifices himself to save his comrades. We have all seen the one where the CIA lies to the military. We have all seen the one where the upper echelons of government hide the truth from the lower ones and the public at large. We have all seen the one where this time it’s personal. What we rarely get is the action movie that manages to tick off all of these boxes and so many more. What we rarely get is the action movie that manages to be ultra generic, that manages to establish its difference by being more like every single action movie all at once. It is impressive even if it’s horribly disappointing.
This is the situation of “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,” director Stefano Sollima’s movie from Taylor Sheridan & Will Staples screenplay and based on novel of the same name. Starring Michael B. Jordan as Clancy’s John Kelly, there are few things to distinguish the movie premiering on Amazon this week except for how relentlessly dull the proceedings are made.
One wants to be able to stand up and say that yes, while “Without Remorse” is boring, at least it separates itself with some impressive and unique action sequences. This is not the case. From soldiers being pinned down by snipers to home invasions to people caught in sinking forms of transportation, there is nothing here with which people won’t already be familiar. What becomes far worse is when the movie starts to repeat itself in its action moments, trapped within its own understanding of how such films play out.
On the plus side, it all starts off well enough – with the scummy CIA agent, Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), lying to Kelly and the team led by Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) about a mission in Syria. We know he’s lying because he’s a CIA agent and because things go bad very quickly. It might be difficult to actually make out what is taking place during this operation, but we all know that it exists to put the real story into motion. And that happens. Then the movie sort of, maybe, take parts of that story back in ways that don’t make sense. This is all in order to advance a plot that requires the involvement of the CIA Director (Lucy Russell) and the Secretary of Defense (Guy Pearce), and has to be windy to match a Clancy novel, one surmises, but it doesn’t work.
Of course, anyone familiar with Clancy’s books will know that the entire point of putting “Without Remorse” on film is in order to setup the next movie. Similarly, the entire point of naming a character “Greer” is so that a reference can be made to James Greer and we can all wonder whether Wendell Pierce (who plays Greer in Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” series) will put in a cameo… or maybe if Ryan himself (John Krasinski) will. After all, there’s corporate synergy to be considered and Ryan and Kelly do appear in some of the same books.
I will not be telling you whether any cameos occur nor whether the Rainbow Six team gets a plug along the way. That is all external to the specifics of this film and certainly within the realm of spoiler territory.
Additionally, I am far too concerned with trying to figure out exactly what Kelly is thinking during a prison scene. He purposefully floods his cell when he knows that there are guards coming for him and then creates a standoff with the guards in order to… well, that’s where I’m stumped (and the water, as far as I can see, doesn’t factor in at all, it’s just a thing that happens so Michael B. Jordan can go bare chested). Kelly’s ploy works because things are occurring outside of the prison of which Kelly has absolutely no knowledge and the timing on those things happen to be perfect to help him in this weird scheme. This isn’t the only example of such illogic in the work, but it’s a prime one.
Jordan, as seems always the case, brings an intensity to the role. If anyone is going to be capable of saving the movie from itself, of lifting it out of the realm of “generic bad action movie” and into “generic mediocre action movie,” it is him. However, the weight pressing the affair down is simply too large for even Jordan’s (broad) shoulders.
Maybe they do make a Rainbow Six movie. Maybe the introduction of Domingo Chavez will be better than the one we get for Kelly (but it’s going to be tough to top the one we already got for Chavez in “Clear and Present Danger”). Who knows what the future will bring. We can only deal with the present, and in the present, “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” is a completely generic misfire, a movie that checks boxes out of obligation rather than inspiration.
photo credit: Amazon Studios