Heroes with skills, stealth and unimpeachable integrity, able to access vast Intel resources without a whole lot of effort, “ops” that go like clockwork until that moment they don’t and murky values and motives from those “On High” — welcome back to Tom Clancyland.
“Jack Ryan” morphing into a TV franchise gave Hollywood the idea that dead Cold Warrior-thriller novelist still has what it takes to entertain. That’s how Clancy’s long-gestating novel “Without Remorse” made it to the big screen.
Michael B. Jordan plays our hero, John Kelly, a special ops commando whose “extraction” mission in Syria turns out to be not what his CIA intermediary (Jamie Bell). Those aren’t Syrian “contractors” they’re shooting it out with. They’re vodka drinkers.
“I don’t see any Russians,” Mr. CIA declares.
“Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” is about the blowback from that Aleppo slaughterhouse. Other members of Kelly’s team meet with “accidents” when they get home. Kelly’s own house is invaded and his pregnant wife (Lauren London) is murdered.
His raging grief threatens to drown him, but his capacity for revenge is great, thanks to relentless training, vast experience and the endless latitude and luck built into this script.
With Mr. Secretary-of-Something (Guy Pearce) in his corner and his former CO (Jodie Turner-Smith of “Queen & Slim”) watching his six, there’s going to be ad platit’, as they say in Mother Russia — “Hell to pay.”
Director Stefano Sollima, who did a decent job with the “Sicario” sequel, keeps his shootouts good and brutal, his fist-choke-and-knife fights to the death.
Kelly’s first murderous reach for answers involves a gas can and a diplomatic SUV, and the stakes just get higher — absurdly-so — after that.
Jordan, who can still get into “Creed” fighting trim when the need arises, is an arresting presence and a believable “man of action.” Turner-Smith, Pearce and Bell were solid casting choices, too.
But this story exposes lapses in Clancy’s logic, giving the viewer jolts of “Wait, how’d they/he get there/escape that?” And the screenwriters saddle the late author’s story with racial subtexts that play as jarring dead-ends. A righteous speech about serving “a country that didn’t love us back” doesn’t advance the plot or explain Kelly’s enlistment, or even his “We’re playing by MY rules, now” actions.
Clancy wasn’t the most racially enlightened writer, so this casting could be taken as a timely updating and another way to open up a story whose mysteries become too obvious before the second act has settled in.
Still, the longer it goes on, the more over-the-top the set pieces get and the more dated the “geopolitics” of it all seems. Clancy has one big theme that turns up in almost all of his adapted-into-scripts novels, and it’s front and center here, served up without apology by a deliriously successful writer whose every book had a whiff of “His Greatest Hits” about it.
MPA Rating: R for violence
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jodie Turner-Smith, Jamie Bell, Lauren London and Guy Pearce
Credit: Directed by Stefano Sollima, script by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples, based on the Tom Clancy novel. An Amazon Studios/Paramount release.
Running time: 1:49