Lacking an interesting aesthetic and relying on a tired trope, ‘Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse’ falls flat

Including “Tom Clancy’s” in the film’s title “Without Remorse” is a direct signal to fans of his character of Jack Ryan who has already been portrayed several times on screen. Clancy’s 1993 best-selling book “Without Remorse” is an origin story for one of Ryan-verse’s characters, John Clark, who was once played by Willem Dafoe and Liev Schrieber, but now Michael B. Jordan takes up the origin story of Clark, née Kelly, a highly skilled Navy SEAL whose life is drastically changed by violence.

Directed by Stefano Sollima, who directed “Sicario: The Day of the Soldado,” and written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples, the screenplay is a loose adaptation and update of the book. The Vietnam scenery is out, and Russia is like the big bad because everything old is new again. What remains is John’s thirst for revenge, a white-hot rage engine fueled by the murder of his wife, Pam (Lauren London).

The Dead Wife is a well-trodden movie trope, a one-stop-shop for writers to add instant pathos and motivation, as well as body count rationale. In the cinematic world of violent and vengeful men, what is a woman if not dead, just a memory to kill in a movie?

John has a simple quest, avenge the murder of Pam. But in doing so, he discovers a web of cynical political maneuvering, orchestrated for the optics, headlines and talking points of cable news. This conspiracy behind the story sounds like a paranoid political thriller from the 1970s, but Sollima is not Alan J. Pakula. Rather than a slick, thin, or even interesting aesthetic, “Without Remorse” is brutal and muddy, with the actors laden with military hardware, bumping and bumping into each other, shooting unseen enemies in dusty, dimly lit rooms.

The characters, whose names we barely know, let slip vast swathes of script in conference rooms, bathrooms, and high-speed vehicles. The moments of humanization feel flattering. Aside from a few nifty snaps and stunts, as well as Jordan’s biceps, the movie is an eyesore, more like “Call of Duty” than anything truly cinematic (although video games are more like movies). Nowadays).

The action is rote, the plot predictable, the comedian usable. But the film takes on an extra layer of meaning with a black actor in the lead role and a black actress, Jodie Turner-Smith, playing John’s closest ally, Karen. Race is never openly spoken, but in the subtext there is a new, perhaps unintended, new meaning.

Centering the story on a Black SEAL and his family destroyed by state-sanctioned gun violence seems particularly crude and urgent right now. When senior CIA officials refuse to investigate the murder of a black woman shot in bed, it resonates outside the film.

As a plot, it’s John’s personal motivation for violence and revenge. As a battered story in a 2021 film, it inadvertently lends social relevance in the wake of the police shootout of Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter movement.

When John and Karen talk to each other about the CIA betrayal, it’s in meaningful statements about their role as black members of the service lamenting that they “fall for what America could be.”

As John imagines himself playing by his own rules, “what a pawn could do to a king,” it becomes a sort of revenge fantasy not only for him, but for who he represents. The reality he discovers is that everyone is some kind of pawn, kings dressed not in armor but in the woolen tweed of bureaucracy. It’s cynical but, in a way, apt.

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