Published in 1993, Without Remorse is a Tom Clancy novel that has spent years in development hell. Around ten years ago it was mooted to be Christopher Nolan’s next project after completion of his Batman trilogy. Finally, the work, from the same universe as the Jack Ryan character, has seen the light of day, produced by Akiva Goldsman and directed by Stefano Sollima, the man responsible for Sicario: Day of the Soldado. In truth, the final product bears very little relation to the book of the same name, with only character names and the plot device of extracting a CIA operative surviving from the original story.
The film begins with John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) participating in a Navy Seal exercise to rescue a CIA member taken hostage in Syria by suspected members of ISIS. In taking their man, they are surprised to find that the captors are not ISIS, but in fact Russian military. In the months that follow the extraction, the members of the team are picked off and murdered, one by one, in apparent revenge. Included is Kelly’s heavily pregnant wife, while John is shot multiple times, surviving but facing a period of rehab – in scenes similar to Chris Pine’s in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
READ MORE: Insidious – Throwback 10
While Kelly recuperates from his injuries, former Seal Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) meets with CIA Deputy Director and member of the extraction team, Robert Ritter (Jamie bBll) and US Defense Secretary Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce) to discuss how the Russian security services uncovered the identities of the team, and to identify potential responses. With news of the Russian response leaking to the public, relations between the two countries are strained almost to breaking point.
Once recovered from his injuries, Kelly finds a Russian diplomat, and forces from him the name of the one surviving member of the group that assassinated his team and his wife: Victor Rykov (Brett Gelman). John convinces the secretary to allow him to lead a black ops team into Russia to kill Rykov. During this, his team learns that not all is as it seems, and there is something very rotten at the heart of Government.
To start with the positives, Without Remorse is a well-shot and extremely well-acted piece, with a plot that is logical and easy to follow. Jordan is fully committed in bringing to life a character long destined for the big screen – which it would have been on, but for the long delays occasioned by the pandemic. Finally settling on Amazon Prime, this feels like quality, cinematic entertainment.
The problem is that it is hard to imagine anyone really caring about Kelly’s situation. The operation that opens the film is entered into abruptly, and with no regard for really introducing any of the characters or explaining the importance of the mission. Kelly’s wife is introduced briefly in one scene at the house, where they are having a party and we establish she is due to give birth in the next month, and then we are straight on to picking off members of the team – and the wife (Pam – played by Lauren London).
Bizarrely, the character of Pam in the book is a sex worker with whom Kelly (or John Clark, as he comes to be known) has a brief and intense affair, and neither of his two marriages are to a woman of that name. The lack of effort in establishing the characters or their relationship leaves only the cliche of his cradling her dead body and screaming up to the sky missing from the piece.
The first half of the film is the strongest, however, as from around 55 minutes in we are into videogame territory. This is somewhat appropriate, as this has been envisioned as the first of a two-part series that will be followed by Rainbow Six, both a book and a well-known first-person shooter videogame series. From around the halfway mark, we are into Russia, and the revenge mission. The intrigue around the team being misled only appears at the very end, and for the rest of the running time – after, it must be said, an extremely well-shot plane crash sequence – is taken up with the mission. It is somewhat reminiscent of Black Hawk Down.
The second problem is the film is utterly predictable in its beats. It is hard to imagine anyone not working out what is going on, and who we can and cannot trust. Our lead makes decisions that are somewhat bizarre: twice placing himself in deadly situations he has caused for… reasons. Seriously, setting a car on fire then getting into it to gain information is, unintentionally, hilarious, and for it – or a variant of it – to happen twice is even funnier.
Without Remorse is undemanding entertainment, and far from offensive. Its biggest issue is that it is unengaging. The action is fine, the story makes sense, but it wastes another fine performance from Michael B. Jordan. From the halfway mark it is a darkly shot action sequence somewhat reminiscent of that first-person shooter upon which it seems to have taken inspiration, following characters we know little about, and about whom we care even less. For Jordan fans, it is a restatement of his abilities and his screen presence; for everyone else, it is likely to be a disappointment.
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is out now on Amazon Prime Video.