Tom Clancy-based films have been in the middle of a spell lately. In the 1990s, the best-seller name became synonymous with award-winning film adaptations of his novels, including The Hunt for Red October, but mixed reactions to films like Jack Ryan seemed to halt further development – until now it is.
Based on the novel of the same name, Without Remorse is the latest attempt to rekindle the Clancy film franchise. Despite its stellar cast, solid pace, and exciting set pieces, Without Remorse is a fairly common revenge tale that suffers from some common twists and turns and tropes.
Man on a mission
The story tells US Navy SEAL John Clark (Michael B. Jordan) without remorse as he seeks retaliation for the murder of his pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London). After Clark’s team conducts a rescue mission in war-torn Syria – one in which his squad kills a number of former Russian forces – Clark and his wife are attacked at their home by Russian mercenaries who kill Pam and leave John for dead.
Clark, who kills two intruders before being shot multiple times by another, survives and swears revenge on those responsible. With the help of SEAL colleague Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), shadowy CIA agent Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), and US Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay (Guy Perace), as he tries to track down his wife’s murderers, Clark is in a tangled conspiracy that threatens an all-out war between the US and Russia.
So, without Remorse, the vengeance is pretty unoriginal and not aided by some completely predictable twists and turns along the way.
Sure, figuring out who the real bad guys are in a revenge movie can be fun, and there are enough shady characters here for a lineup of the usual suspects. However, it is easy to find out who is the great evil without regrets, even without reading the book first. Viewers who resolve the case early will feel like the rest of the movie is nothing more than a slow march towards this important reveal, but even if the story doesn’t grab your attention, other parts of the movie will.
For one thing, Without Remorse feels as timely now as it did when the book was first written. Set during the Cold War, Clancy’s novel follows Clark’s mission of revenge through the US and Vietnam, which includes an attack on a drug ring and the rescue of prisoners of war.
The film adaptation alters these events to better reflect the world in 2021, for example by replacing the Vietnam War with the ongoing Syrian conflict, and the current frosty relationship between Russia and America ensures that the story is not necessarily told outside of time.
There is also more globetrotter around him than the source footage, which helps with the speed of the film and doesn’t allow it to get stuck in one place. This adventure around the world also adds to the film’s globalization theme and the possible ramifications of the characters’ actions. If the assassination doesn’t excite you, perhaps it will be exploring hot-button issues – including the positions of the US and Russia on the world stage.
Call the shots
The cast of the film brings a little more credibility to the film as it examines these issues. Jordan is characterized by the purposeful Clark, and the emotional weight he attaches to the protagonist of Without Remorse reinforces the effect of a familiar revenge story. It’s a shame, however, that Jordan and London don’t have more on-screen time than the Clarks, considering how Pam’s murder sets the plot.
Turner-Smith also shows a solid performance as a stoic and resourceful Greer, while Bell’s aggressive CIA agent keeps you busy every time he’s on screen. In Jordans, add Clark, and the trio’s clashing personalities mean verbal fireworks are never far away, even if they’re all pulling in the same direction.
As for the action, there is enough of it. Shootings look and feel authentic, and a sequence of snipers in a small Russian town is a particularly tense set piece that actually adds weight to the portrayal of life and death in the film. The movie’s main up-close combat sequence is also excellent without being overly gratuitous, and contrasts nicely with the movie’s numerous gun fights. There are some notable sequences that put Jordan’s Clark in real danger too, and show how much training the film’s lead actor went through to realistically portray a Navy SEAL.
These sequences are impressive, but in the end it never feels like Jordan’s Clark is in danger. He’s the hero, after all, and like so many other predictable elements of this movie, he is expected to survive another day to fight. But apart from the attack on his house, at no point does Clark’s life feel in danger – and perhaps more tension on this side would have resulted in a more exciting finished film.
Ultimately, Without Remorse is caught between a rock and a tough place. Sure, traditional revenge stories almost write themselves, but it seems like more could have been done to set them apart from similar films.
Leaning into the R-rated content of the source material or making the real villain of the film less obvious would have helped differentiate it from the usual “person seeks revenge for the death of a loved one” mechanic. As it is, Without Remorse won’t interfere with newer critically acclaimed, revenge-led films like John Wick.
It will be interesting to see where the sequel leads – Jordan has already confirmed what it will mean, but we won’t spoil it here – from a plot and character growth perspective, and maybe Without Remorse will be a great premise for that potential cinematic universe by Tom Clancy. As a stand-alone film, however, Without Remorse is quite entertaining without being standout.
Without Remorse launches on Friday, April 30th on Amazon Prime Video.
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