Sunday, May 2, 2021

Flight of Clancy: WITHOUT REMORSE

The only real shock of Without Remorse, a sleepy thriller with sporadic spurts of dutiful violence, is to realize we used to have this sort of movie at this scale all the time. Now to consistently see a new movie about some military guy off on a mission of revenge you have to go down to the direct-to-video space. I’d say it’s nice to see even a mediocre one of these done with a good fresh movie star, sleek production value, on a big screen, but Paramount sold it off to Amazon Video and now here we are. It’s a slick paperback thriller with undigestible exposition and brooding emotional simplicity, loosely adapted from a Tom Clancy novel, which means it’ll have a stew of geopolitical confusion, Deep State skulduggery, and paranoid might-makes-right special-forces plotting. It stars Michael B. Jordan as an ex-military guy who gets entangled in international conspiracy when veterans from his unit are suddenly murdered stateside. He’s attacked, too, but it leaves him merely wounded while his pregnant wife dies. That’s the kind of brute force inciting incident of which these sorts of stories are made. Of course he has to work with his old military contacts (Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith) and the Defense Secretary (Guy Pearce) to ferret out the connections between his wife’s murderers and various international ne’er-do-wells. 

The result is long stretches of darkly lit unhappiness interrupted only by, say, a fiery interrogation or routine firefights blankly staged with digital squibs. There are some twists and turns along the way, but the film is so digitally scrubbed and smoothly burnished and dully doled out that it was slowly lulling me asleep instead. It’s cold to the touch, never quite involving enough as emotion or action or intrigue. Director Stefano Sollima, whose Sicario: Day of the Soldado was at least stylishly unpleasant, and writer Taylor Sheridan, who specializes in the terse masculine genre mechanics that of course leads him to war and westerns and crime pictures, never quite unlock what makes this story, or character, tick. As a result they strand the hard-working Jordan without a chance to uncork his substantial charisma. There’s also that nagging sense one gets in a would-be franchise starter that the whole production is holding something back for the next one. Would that it would just kick all the way into high gear the first time around. By the time it gets to the end credits scene — in which Jordan somehow finds a Joseph Gordon-Levitt impression as he intones words that’ll mean something to readers of the source material — teasing a future Clancy-verse, I was out. It makes me yearn for the relatively convincing simplicity and gripping precision of the classic Hunt for Red October instead.

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