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Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse [Video Review]

Repatriate Games: Sollima & Sheridan Opt for Clear & Present Danger with Tepid Clancy Adaptation

Stefano Sollima Tom Clancy's Without Remorse ReviewIt’s so Clancy, you already know. Although we’ve seen resurgent preoccupations in Tom Clancy’s famed Jack Ryan properties over the past decade, a mantel taken up by his estate wherein other writers are using the Clancy name since his death in 2013 (think the continual output of ‘V.C. Andrews,’ or ‘Mary Higgins Clark,’ his femme-pulp counterparts), Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples tackle the long hibernating Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, based on the 1993 novel focusing on spinoff character John Clark nee Kelly (who was portrayed by Willem Dafoe that very next year in 1994’s Clear and Present Danger and later by Live Schreiber in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears).

At one point earmarked as a Keanu Reeves vehicle, long languishing in developmental hell, here we have, at last, the purest essence of Clancy, directed by Stefano Sollima (the Italian director whose most recognizable English-language work is 2018’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado, also penned by Sheridan, writer of Villeneuve’s Sicario in 2015). However, you can take Clancy out of the 1990s, but you can’t take the 1990s espionage tactics out of Clancy, it seems, in this strikingly lackluster exercise punctuated only briefly by the vicious masculine posturing and orgiastic violence we’ve come to expect from Sheridan.

In Aleppo, a team of US Navy SEALs led by Senior Chief John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan), interfaces with CIA liaison Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) to rescue a hostage CIA operative detained by the Syrian military. However, the mission results in the assassination of an ex-Russian agent, sowing discord amongst Kelly and Ritter. Three months later, as Kelly navigates retirement and the birth of his first child with wife Pam (Lauren London), several members of his team from Aleppo are assassinated, and when a botched attempt on his own life leaves him a childless widower, Kelly, with assistance from Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner Smith) goes to extreme lengths to find out who murdered his wife. Ending up in prison for murdering a Russian diplomat responsible for granting passports to said culprits, the lenient Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce) allows Kelly out of prison to join another mission to Murmansk, Russia, where the surviving Russian agent Victor Rykov (Brett Gelman) has fled, and whose capture will lead all to be revealed.

What begins on a sort of The Parallax View (1974) footing quickly ends up being a straightforward revenge film. If we can believe Kelly’s rage might blind him to considerable red flags, Sheridan and Staples forgot they need to finesse the resulting plot holes so the audience remains a bit more ignorant of what could potentially be going on. But for those who are used to piecing together glaringly obvious puzzle pieces, such as high-profile cast members in what seem to be throwaway roles right up until the (ta da) painfully obvious conclusion, it’s a narrative which might register as more effective if one’s attention wanes.

Forced motifs in the dialogue (chess, what else?) tend to land like lead balloons, and for the most part, Jordan is doing what he can, even if he seems to have been directed to hover in a realm of intensity which ends up feeling robotic (his best sequence arrives rather early when Merab Ninidze finds himself trapped in an intense inferno). Speaking of robots, however, Jodie Turner Smith confuses solemnity with somnambulism, and not unlike similar issues with her performance in Queen & Slim (2019), tends to stop narrative momentum in scenes where she’s tasked with delivering anything remotely resembling exposition or emotional range. A strange proliferation of notable supporting players are on hand for naught, such as Colman Domingo and Cam Gigandet. Jamie Bell’s Robert Ritter, a snivelly villain in the Clancy world, is perhaps justifiably inscrutable, while Lauren London could have easily been a stuffed pillow as Kelly’s doomed wife (and even gets the Michelle Williams/Shutter Island autumnal themed nightmare disappearing sequence). Oh, and Brett Gelman is the Russian operative with, you know, secrets.

With the motives of its antagonists eventually revealed to be completely preposterous, and its handholding so egregious (the film’s final moments are almost shockingly layered in revealing how stupid either the scribes or the producers believe their audience to be), one wonders what sacrifices had to be made (including with the author’s name choking out an otherwise banal title) to even find its way to production. Whatever the case, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse may have netted an exciting lead star in Michael B. Jordan to reinvigorate interest in this specific brand of pseudo-intellectual machismo entertainment—but this scenario sells him woefully short.

★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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