I’m an unabashed fan of actor Michael B. Jordan. “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights” are two of my favorite television shows of all-time. “Creed” and “Just Mercy” are two of my favorite films of the past 10 years. I’m also an action movie devotee and a casual fan of Tom Clancy. I haven’t read a single one of his books, but I’ve seen every filmic adaptation, religiously played “Splinter Cell” in the early aughts and am current on the Amazon Prime series “Jack Ryan.”
Given all of this I should’ve been in the bag for Italian director Stefano Sollima’s adaptation of Clancy’s 1993 novel “Without Remorse” (now streaming on Prime), but I can assure you it hews much closer in quality to “The Sum of All Fears” and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” than it does “The Hunt for Red October” or “Clear and Present Danger.”
Jordan stars as John Kelly, a Navy SEAL who’s returned home with the promise of private security work offering higher pay and better hours that’ll allow him to spend more time with his pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London). This dream is cut short when John and his fellow SEALs (among them “Never Back Down” baddie Cam Gigandet) are targeted and largely terminated by Russian operatives as retribution for their roles in a recent mission ran on bad intel from CIA spook Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell).
The hit on John isn’t successful, but it tragically leaves Pam and the baby deceased. John receives sympathy from compassionate SEAL colleague Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith of “Queen & Slim”) and Defense Secretary Clay (Guy Pearce). They give John intel on Pam’s killer – a man named Viktor Rykov (comedic actor Brett Gelman) – so he can better and sooner exact revenge.
Much of what makes “Without Remorse” work is Jordan. He isn’t given anything nearly as emotionally meaty as “Creed” or “Just Mercy” to sink his teeth into, but he throws himself into this physically-taxing part with gusto. (I saw Jordan on last night’s episode of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” where he charmingly relayed that he took on the role due to his childhood love of the “Rainbow Six” video games.) Jordan is ably backed up by the talented Turner-Smith (it should be fun to see where her character’s familial bond to Wendell Pierce’s Jim Greer from “Jack Ryan” leads) and a mercurial but ultimately likable Bell.
Not all of the performances register however. Anyone who’s seen Pearce in a movie within the last 10 years knows exactly how his character’s going to play out. This man’s a good actor who deserves different and better material … perhaps a different and better agent too? Gelman isn’t bad in the picture, but his presence is amusingly distracting.
I wanted so much to like “Without Remorse” … and to a degree I do, but a lot of it reads as cheap. This feels less like a movie and more like an extended pilot episode for a new television series. The script by Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario,” “Hell or High Water”) and Will Staples (“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”) doesn’t bear the complexity that much of Sheridan’s work has and more so calls to mind the world of video games from which Staples hails.
I wasn’t nearly as impressed by Sollima’s “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” as I was by its predecessor, but overall I ever-so-slightly preferred that flick (fucked-up politics and all) to “Without Remorse.” What Sollima brought from that movie to this one is a mixed bag of action sequences. When this shit clicks (such as in a prison-based fight where John takes on a gaggle of prison guards in riot gear or during a lengthy shootout in a Russian apartment building that seems to account for a quarter of the film’s runtime) it fires on all cylinders. When the action goes astray (John setting a car ablaze and promptly sitting inside it – stupid!, an unconvincing airplane crash) it misses the mark altogether.
“Without Remorse” kinda calls to mind last week’s “Mortal Kombat” in that it feels like a tease to something better in the future.