Without Remorse: Into the Clancy-Verse
If you’re someone who’s been tapped into the world of video games, it might seem like Tom Clancy has been a pervasive presence over the past two decades; since the early 2000s, barely a year has gone by without a new Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, or the like. It’s been a different story on the big and small screen, where interest in Clancy adaptations has waxed and waned: despite the financial success of 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, it took twelve years to get another film off the ground (2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit). But between Amazon Studios’ ongoing Jack Ryan television series and their new film Without Remorse, we might be looking at a Clancy resurgence — and given that Without Remorse was announced with a sequel already in mind, we could be headed for video game-esque saturation.
If you, like me, were wary of another Stefano Sollima / Taylor Sheridan collaboration after 2018’s abysmal Sicario: Day of the Soldado, then rest assured that Without Remorse fairly easily clears that admittedly low threshold. Actor-Producer Michael B. Jordan stars as John Clark, an elite Navy SEAL whose special ops talents unsurprisingly land him and his family squarely in the danger zone. After a covert mission leads to personal tragedy, Clark goes from family man to cold-blooded killing machine, embarking on a globe-trotting revenge tour to root out enemies both at home and abroad.
Despite the frequency with which characters are referred to as “patriots,” the script by Sheridan and Will Staples is far less jingoistic than one might expect. The story often hinges on distrust of the American government and the way it uses soldiers as mere pawns (though the film’s recurring chess metaphor becomes more unintentionally humorous every time it comes up), and there’s at least an effort made to allude to how this treatment might have a disparate impact along racial lines, though those discussions mostly remain on the margins. Theoretically more interesting for a film like this is the attempt at deeper character exploration than you might normally see, with significant chunks of the film devoted to Clark’s emotionality in the wake of great loss — unfortunately the creative team doesn’t dig much past surface level, wasting Jordan’s considerable emotive talents on a dour character that doesn’t have much depth beyond “sad” and “mad.”
Fortunately, Jordan excels at physicality as well, and if you’re tuning into Without Remorse you’re probably doing so for the action more than anything else. On this front Sollima is much more successful, staging several exciting setpieces with clean, precise action that help keep the film moving whenever it threatens to get bogged down by plotting or moping, aided by Philippe Rousselot’s sure-handed cinematography and Jónsi’s familiar but still propulsive score. The impressive supporting cast — including Guy Pearce, Colman Domingo, Brett Gelman, and Jodie Turner-Smith — is as solid as you might expect despite being mostly underwritten, and Jamie Bell stands out as a shadowy CIA agent with questionable motives. By the end, it’s clear that in some ways this film may be somewhat perfunctory — an opening salvo in a larger gamble on the Clancy-verse, as alluded to in a mid-credits sequence — but Jordan’s star shines bright enough to mostly obscure Without Remorse’s by-the-numbers tendencies.