Without Remorse isn’t the worst movie around but the problem is we’ve already seen it. Hollywood has been churning out spy-slash-assassin movies for decades and after the James Bond era we had the Jason Bourne era; more grit and more realism, but even that has become a stale concept. Going from bright and tacky to dark and tough may have seemed like modernising the subgenre back in the late ’90s and early ’00s but it’s now the ’20s for Treadstone’s sake. In the same way that we looked down at ’60s and ’70s spy flicks in the ’90s, watching a ’00s aesthetic in 2021 feels like we’re watching old tat. Of course, an institutionally racist, sexist, and homophobic sector of entertainment who has only just realised that making films with minority actors actually makes money; Hollywood is now throwing black and female actors at said old tat thinking that’ll suffice as an update. Well as an ethnic minority, I’m here to say it does not. Swapping male actors with female actors and white characters with black ones doesn’t stop the fact that you’re making formulaic, out-of-date trash. In case you didn’t know, Without Remorse was originally offered to Keanu Reeves. Sticking Michael B. Jordan in it doesn’t elevate this from a script that Reeves declined, and given that Keanu chose to make the appalling Bill & Ted Face The Music, what does that say about this flick?
Without Remorse is based on the novel of the same name by deceased, pro-Reagan, Republican, insurance agent turned military militarist novelist Tom Clancy. Given its subject matter and the writer’s political leanings, I haven’t read this book but given that I’m a fan of Michael B. Jordan, I thought I’d give this Prime Video actioner a go. But, like I said, this movie feels very hackneyed right from the get-go. With a plot about an elite team of U.S. Navy SEALs (yawn) Syria (yawn) Russian assassins (yawn) revenge for killing his wife (yawn) it feels to me, that between the John Wick saga and the aforementioned Bourne franchise, not to mention the terrible Jack Ryan movies including the one starring Chris Pine (and even the god-awful Has Fallen series) we’re basically retreading over very familiar and outdated territory. Like the overrated Angel Has Fallen, Islamic terror is now yesterday’s news and Russia is our new threat. What is this: the 1980’s? Someone call Golan-fucking-Globus.
This film purports to be based on an old book, even sporting the heading of “Tom Clancy’s” in the title but by changing the setting from the Vietnam era, removing the pimps and prostitutes, and casting a black actor as what should have been a white Irish lead seems to have annoyed Clancy’s fanbase (read the film’s Google reviews for proof). This is an odd decision given that antagonising the source material’s fans isn’t a good way of attaining profit. From a non-fan’s perspective, offering me a black actor with urban music playing in the trailer isn’t going to make me forget this is a pro-U.S., militarist propaganda vehicle. Ooh look, there’s Jodie Turner-Smith doing a No Time To Die-esque Lashana Lynch, how very unique… not. Aside from turning-off your racist, jingoist dad, adding a couple of black actors has done nothing to attract or distract a viewer like me.
Hurriedly translating novels into celluloid since they have a built-in fanbase, Clancy’s pulp hasn’t resulted in cinematic classics, aside from of course, The Hunt For Red October which by all accounts did away with the superfluous sub-plots and crafted a better story in the process. Given how I described Clancy earlier, you can get me on board with a true-blue action movie in a number of ways. Give me a sympathetic actor such as Matt Damon in the first three Bourne movies or an intriguing plot and thrilling direction like Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter or John McTiernan’s The Hunt For Red October and I’m in. Without Remorse thankfully contains one of these elements; namely Michael B. Jordan as the protagonist John Kelly/Clark. I’ve always liked Jordan since The Wire and even as the villain, he was likeable in Black Panther. Michael’s charisma therefore, is the main reason to watch this film; he’s not the greatest actor out there but he’s watchable as an action star and his muscles at least poke through the cliched narrative and tedious direction.
Directed by war cameraman and benefiter of nepotism Stefano Sollima, who made the generally disappointing sequel to Sicario, this is more overblown murderousness masquerading as meaningful. Stefano possesses no skill in directing whatsoever. The only blip of potential is a rolling torch on the floor highlighting the antagonist and protagonist’s faces which could have been De Palma-esque, but there’s no masterfully-crafted thrills here, just your run-of-the-mill, made-for-TV “action” film with no personality.
Written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples who were responsible for writing both Sicario films and penning a couple of Call Of Duty video games respectively, this film’s storyline is a mixture of macho and mundane. The cast which contains a mish-mash of A-list talent and B-movie actors, doesn’t help matters either. Jamie Bell plays the C.I.A. arsewipe Robert Ritter quite well but Jodie Turner-Smith as Karen Greer isn’t very convincing, and Guy Pearce as Secretary Clay brings back memories of the cartoonish Bloodshot.
In terms of plot, getting into a car that you’ve set on fire whilst covered in alcohol in front of an airport (in which you’ve shot the occupants) makes little to no sense. Scenes like this prove to you what kind of nonsense you’re watching. Without Remorse is not as bad as SAS: Red Notice but it’s in the same ball park; the plot is contrived, the characters are cliched, the fights aren’t choreographed particularly well and thanks to the lifeless direction, the action and thrills aren’t executed in a way that keeps you gripped, in fact much of this film is, for lack of a better word: boring. That being said, this film could have been a great comeback vehicle for John McTiernan who could have easily turned this mediocre narrative into something special but apparently Hollywood would rather chuck their cash at a hack than hire some tried-and-tested talent.
Without Remorse is a throwback movie containing derivative and formulaic action set-pieces as well as Conservative ideas of patriotism and revenge; it’s like watching Rambo (all of them except for the superior First Blood) but made in the present day. If this movie was made back in the early ’90s, it would have starred some macho, straight-to-video, bad actor, possibly Chuck Norris. Michael B. Jordan is of course better than this trash, unless of course, he agrees with or is a fan of Tom Clancy. He does I assume, want this addition to the “Ryanverse” to become a franchise and lead to the counter-terrorist novel and computer game-translated sequel Rainbow Six (which despite the title, isn’t about a homosexual orgy). If that’s the case, maybe his private personality is the polar opposite of his public persona. If red, white, and blue action garbage like this is anything more than pot boiler work for Jordan, and if he purposely wanted to take part in the translation of a gung-ho novel into a gung-ho filmic flop, I have…