' ' Cinema Romantico: Without Remorse

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Without Remorse

Tom Clancy’s novel “Without Remorse” is an origin story of John Kelly, destined to become John Clark, a Navy SEAL turned CIA officer, played by Willem Dafoe in “Clear and Present Danger” (1994) and Liev Schrieber in “The Sum of All Fears” (2002). And though that other famous Clancy character, Jack Ryan, does not appear in Stefano Sollima’s cinematic adaptation of Clancy’s 1993 book, officially titled “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse”, I thought of a Ryan vehicle anyway – “Patriot Games.” There an IRA terrorist, Sean Miller, seeks vengeance against Ryan for killing his brother, essentially repurposing the arm of his IRA splinter group for a personal vendetta while Ryan utilizes an apparatus of the American government to defend himself. In a way, “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” provides both those characters for the price of one as Michael B. Jordan’s version of John Kelly is the one seeking personal vengeance, against enemies both foreign and domestic. But if “Patriot Games” was efficiently, enjoyably taut, excising all narrative fat, reducing it to merely kill or be killed, “Without Remorse” is laborious and heavy-handed, a true slog. 

Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse” might have been set in the 1970s but “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” opens in the present with a ripped-from-the-headlines opening as John Kelly and his SEAL crew rescue in Aleppo to rescue a CIA operative from what turns out to be Russian ex-military. This is unexpected to John, though not to the CIA agent overseeing the mission, Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), immediately setting him up as suspicious antagonist to John Kelly’s heroic protagonist. In Ritter’s presence, Jordan has Kelly look at this suspicious spook with an intense, unwavering gaze, like a prizefighter at the weigh in, announcing his intentions, that he’s got his eye on you no matter what, among the few moments of levity in an otherwise brutal affair. Indeed, once Kelly and his team arrive back home in America, they are killed off one by one, and so is John’s wife (Lauren London), though he survives, barely, allowing him to venture off on the revenge warpath that takes him straight to the top of the American Government.

The plot I have just described is, more or less, Steven Seagal’s 1991 thriller “Hard to Kill”, in which a cop seeks vengeance for the murder of his wife, or, roughly speaking, Tony Scott’s Man on Fire (2004), in which Denzel Washington’s bodyguard goes on a violent spree of vengeance after his youthful charge is kidnapped. The latter, however, spent considerable time building up its key relationship before going pyrotechnical while the latter was intended as nothing more than a barrel of bloody fun. “Without Remorse”, on the other hand, spends little time in the company of John’s wife before offing her to set in the plot in motion while her being pregnant is merely a misbegotten sadistic impulse that goes to show the movie has no interest in being fun at all. Given the emergent conspiracy, John Kelly might have been like Charles Bronson of “Deathwish” recast in some 70s paranoia thriller, but the outlandish, escalating set-ups of “Without Remorse” demand a nod and a wink and all we get is an angry face emoji.

It’s unfortunate. Given the end point, “Without Remorse” provided an opportunity for libertarians and leftists to cheer together in vanquishing a common enemy. (Modern right-wingers are a whole other story. They probably would take umbrage with John Kelly being black instead of white even though the movie’s presentation of Kelly is essentially devoid of color.) And there are some exciting action scenes suggesting what could have been. Kelly walking through the fire he has just ignited and into the back of a limousine to converse with the Russian diplomat who set him up is the sort of compelling madness you want in a movie like this and leads into another great sequence where Kelly fights off an entire SWAT team in the diminutive space of his prison cell, which must have been the sort of thing that came to Marvelous Marvin Hagler in dreams. These moments, though, are weighed toward the beginning. Gradually, a sour sameness creeps in, denoted in that darkly lit aesthetic most modern action movies prefer, like the entire movie was shot through the lens of some fetid lens, one confusing foul cinematography for gritty, living out its title in the worst possible way. 

No comments: