Inside a burning car as windows crack. The vertigo of a swirling plane underwater. A cleanly framed shootout in a dilapidated apartment building. These are the exciting set-pieces that keep Stefano Solima’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s novel chugging along. And because the action is efficient and the political subterfuge is cranked up to ten, the more mundane aspects on display in Without Remorse can be forgiven. It’s an old school action film with little else on its mind. And I’m okay with that.
Stepping into the lead role of another Clancy hero is Michael B. Jordan as John Kelly, a lean and brooding special ops soldier who never panics under pressure and always seems to be two steps ahead of those pointing guns at him. This unique talent is deftly revealed in the film’s opening scene when he single handedly saves most of his unit when an overseas extraction mission goes horribly awry.
But it’s this opening mission that soon comes to back haunt most of the participating soldiers. One by one, they’re picked off in the sound confines of their homes in what looks like the preambles to a new cold war between the United States and Russia.
Not immune to the violence is Kelly, left with a body of bullet holes and a pregnant dead wife (Lauren London), and once he wakes up, he becomes a shell of himself with nothing but revenge on his mind. Aided by his ex commanding officer (Jodie Turner Smith) and a shady CIA officer (Jamie Bell), Kelly navigates a serpentine path back overseas on a deadly mission he hopes will bring him closer to finding those responsible.
Written by Taylor Sheridan (and reunited with director Solima from Sicario 2: Soldado), Without Remorse certainly has his fingerprints all over it. Complete with macho swaggering in place of strong character development and logistical set-pieces that emphasize the ruthlessness of bullets and space over whiz-bang spectacle, Sheridan and Solima have adapted a spy story with modern day flare. It looks and sounds terrific.
Even better is the final third of the film, which posits Kelly and his crew in a twisted battle of bullets and wills in a burned out apartment building with snipers all around and the local police closing in. Unlike most films that choose to disorient and fracture the image, Solima utilizes a clean mise-en-scene.
Expecting anything more than that would be foolish, however. Jordan- an actor who routinely seems to internalize rather than reveal- is a stone cold soldier who exhibits two modes of performance here…. anger and methodical killing anger. His few scenes inside a maximum security prison make one yearn for an entire film where he plays a wrongly convicted man fighting for his life. It’s a brutal and calculated few moments of sparse ingenuity.
All the technical wizardry aside, Without Remorse isn’t nuanced, which is a bit of a disappointment since Sheridan has been able to meld the balance of both violence and deep connection in a majority of his penned efforts, especially the first Sicario (2015), Hell or High Water (2016) and especially Wind River (2017). He doesn’t reach any of those highs here, whether its due to Clancy’s dry narrative style or something else. Still, Without Remorse is enjoyable and with the lack of recent adult-oriented action films, this one should satisfy most.
Without Remorse begins streaming on Amazon Prime Friday April 30th.