In Tom Clancy’s excellent 1993 novel “Without Remorse,” a former Navy Seal Vietnam Veteran named John Kelly loses his pregnant wife in a car accident, befriends a former prostitute, helps her kick drugs, and finds her murdered by her ex-pimp who almost kills Kelly as well.
Seeking revenge by murdering pimps and drug dealers, Kelly decimates a drug ring, goes on a mission to rescue POWs and fights against political corruption and KGB moles.
I found it to be one of Clancy’s best books, one stocked full of labyrinthine plots and interesting characterizations.
Director Stefano Sollima’s adaptation “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” takes almost everything from the novel (save for the revenge plot) and completely throws it out.
What screenwriters Taylor Sheridan (one of our modern best, which should have assured this to be a much better film) and Will Staples do is take the essence of Clancy’s main character and place him in a straightforward revenge thriller with a militaro-political edge but no bite.
The character of Kelly (also known as John Clark) was previously played by Willem Dafoe in Phillip Noyce’s superior 1994 Tom Clancy adaptation “Clear and Present Danger” and Liev Schreiber in Phil Alden Robinson’s horrible 2002 adaptation of Clancy’s “The Sum of All Fears.”
Michael B. Jordan (a fine actor) does well but is not given enough to work with. He is all scarred-soul revenge machine and not enough time is allowed for the film to build him as a human being. We root for the character because the screenplay says we must, as his mission of revenge and justice for his dead wife and daughter is right—and just.
There is not an abundance of plot, so a deep discussion of the film’s inner workings cannot be done.
After the murder of his wife, John Kelly goes on a quest for revenge that gets him thrown in jail. After being released to help bring down an international villain, Kelly finds himself drowning in a much bigger conspiracy that will lead back to the murder of his wife.
What transpires is a decent enough action film that exists to set up a new series of Clancy films starring Michael B. Jordan.
Sollima (“Suburra,” 2015) did very well when he helmed the sequel that should not have been as good as it was, “Sicario: Day of the Saldado.” As a filmmaker, he does good work here as well. Modern action films fall prey to the shaky-cam style that is mistaken for visceral moviemaking but reduces action scenes to confusing and uninteresting messes.
The director has a handle on how to shoot action. The great cinematographer Philippe Rousselot keeps his camera fluid, using tracking shots and wide angles to allow for the well-designed action moments to be experienced—and there are certainly a few.
The issue with the action in this film (save for an expertly choreographed stairwell attack) is that it does not awe me. The scenes are lacking in the thrill they need in order to stay with us after we have moved on.
“Without Remorse” is well cast, for the most part. Guy Pearce in the supporting role of Secretary Clay, Clancy fans will be familiar with this character.
Jodie Turner-Smith (so memorable in “Queen and Slim”) does a lot with her underwritten role as Kelly’s fellow soldier who has supreme respect for both the man and his mission. Smith is an actress who should carve out an impressive career moving forward.
Jamie Bell is the only one who comes up short. As Commander Robert Ritter, the typically good actor seems a bit lost and fails to project authority and the moral ambiguity the character requires. The role needed a more seasoned actor. I just could not buy that Bell was a man who has “seen and done things.”
The obligatory post-credit sequence sets up the sequel and upcoming series of films. If this comes to pass, I will hold out hope that perhaps any future films will dig a bit deeper and take hold of Clancy’s intricate plot stylings.
As is, “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” is a solid-enough action thriller. If you have read the book, forget what you know, as the film is its own entity. If you want to see the book on screen, this is not the film for you.
Far from perfect and nowhere near great, some good action moments, a director who knows how to craft a film, and an overall aura of interest keep this film afloat.
The world of Tom Clancy is an exhilarating place to be, but this film leaves something to be desired.
Calling John McTiernan and Phillip Noyce! Your services are needed.