I did initially think Without Remorse was going to be one of those action films where there are great visuals disguising annoying weaknesses in the plot and storytelling. You know, the ones I mean; the types of movies that Zack Snyder and Michael Bay have built their careers around. There is a scene right at the start where some soldiers rise out of a pool of water and surprise their enemies, which looks cool but the water is clearly shallow enough for them to stand up in so there is absolutely no way they would have been able to hide in it – and I thought, oh here we go. Thankfully this isn’t that kind of film though, which is partly due to the sensibilities of writer Taylor Sheridan who authored both of the Sicario movies and director Stefano Sollima who worked with him on the second one, but it is also largely down to the commitment and intensity of its lead actor. Yep, this steers right away from Michael Bay because of Michael B.
This said, the movie is open to other filmic comparisons it would have done better to avoid. This is a Tom Clancy adaptation and (even if it wasn’t written on the poster) you definitely know it. The Jack Ryan movies and TV show are good (particularly the Harrison Ford ones) but there is just so many of them that they’ve practically done a Bond and become a sub-genre all by themselves. I guess it is good that Hollywood has finally realised that Clancy has written other characters but they’ve not exactly broken away from established convention. Protagonist John Clark already appeared in Ryan vehicles Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears, played by Willem DeFoe and Liev Schreiber respectively. There has been an attempt to change things up a bit but this still feels familiar, generic and more than a little outdated. The title is apt (deliberately so) because the film does have a shoot without hesitation or guilt mentality that feels very 80s/early 90s. Interestingly Jack Ryan on film, even back then, was a bit of an attempt to challenge this amoral approach to action cinema and it was Dafoe’s Clark that was brought in to pull the triggers that Ford’s Ryan wouldn’t. By centring on Clark, whose distinction then as now is his penchant for decisive violence, does present a slight regression.
Still, as in Sicario, under the guidance of Sheridan and Sollima the violence is taken terribly seriously and is certainly never inconsequential and even after twenty two hours of Ryan on screen this still adds something new. The story of Navy Seals on a covert mission in Russia, while very different to the novel of the same name, is intriguing and gripping and more than worth a hundred and ten minutes of sofa time. As suggested though, it is Michael B. Jordan above all else that makes the film what it is.
Jordan has an incredible screen presence as an actor. There is always power in his performances which is obvious in things like Black Panther, Creed and Fruitvale Station but also in a more understated way in the under seen Just Mercy. This film goes the less subtle route but there are few young actors who are as commanding and his participation alone is enough reason to watch this. It certainly wouldn’t be as good without him.
The Ripley Factor:
Jordan is not the only actor of note in the film. Guy Pierce does well in a small role even if his character turns a little derivative in his closing scenes and Jamie Bell is really good as the shady CIA guy (of all the American law enforcement agencies, the CIA have the least trustworthy representations in films). Second to Jordan though is Jodie Turner-Smith who plays his commanding officer.
We’ve come a long way from military women on screen all being akin to Private Vasquez in Aliens. It is more typical now to see people like Cobie Smulders in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and Avengers, KiKi Layne in The Old Guard and Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty (who was actually CIA and uncommonly not duplicitous). Still, even by contemporary cinematic standards Turner-Jones’ Greer seems a rare mix of femininity and authority in this type of role. As cinema’s great woman bosses go she might not challenge Judy Dench’s M but she does counteract much of the damage done by Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses, Demi Moore in Disclosure, Meryl Steep in The Devil Wears Prada and Ripley herself Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl.