Directed by: Stefano Sollima
Premise: Navy SEAL John Clark (Michael B. Jordan) sets out for revenge when his wife is murdered. Teaming with a CIA agent, Clark discovers a conspiracy that could result in a full scale war between Russia and the United States.
What Works: Without Remorse combines a revenge thriller with a militaristic espionage adventure. The film is polished and efficiently executed and possesses an edge. The story centers upon John Clark, a Navy SEAL engaged in clandestine operations. After returning home from a mission, Clark’s family is targeted by assassins with ties to Russia. This opening makes Clark an empathetic character and effectively puts the audience on his side. It also gives Without Remorse dramatic urgency; the primal revenge motive carries the movie but Clark’s investigation leads to a broader story of intrigue and corruption. Without Remorse is based upon a novel by Tom Clancy, author of other espionage thrillers adapted into films such as The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger. This film has little to do with the book but it does reimagine the John Clark character and the story for the modern world. Without Remorse is partly a mystery and that aspect of the film works especially well. It’s unclear who is trustworthy and who is an enemy and the film uses the ambiguity of covert warfare to create suspense and raise the stakes. The action sequences possess a muscular style; there’s plane crash set piece that is especially spectacular. Michael B. Jordan is cast as John Clark and Jordan does very well. He’s believable as an elite soldier but Jordan also gives the character a righteous rage that simmers beneath his performance.
What Doesn’t: Without Remorse is a mostly average spy thriller. The moviemakers do everything competently but nothing in the film is innovative nor does it add to the genre. The story has significant political implications, coming at a time of heightened tension between the United States and Russia and concerns about the military industrial complex. Without Remorse doesn’t have anything to say about that. It’s the kind of movie that portrays complex political problems as the fault of a single bad politician rather than a result of a system that incentivizes violence and instability. That’s understandable; drama is better suited to presenting stories about individuals than institutions and in that respect Without Remorse is no different from most other espionage thrillers. But the film remains within a conventional dramatic framework instead of expanding it.
DVD extras: Currently available on Amazon.
Bottom Line: Without Remorse is a satisfying spy thriller. The movie is mostly average but it is an entertaining action film that captures the spirit of Tom Clancy’s spy fiction. Without Remorse is clearly intended to set up a franchise and the potential of the John Clark character is considerable. But a follow up has to take more risks and break the mold.