Movies based on the Tom Clancy spy thriller novels have spawned a whole lot of reboots, remakes and semi-sequels throughout, starring everyone from Baldwins to Fords to Afflecks. The latest entry, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is surprisingly the best entry in the series since The Hunt for Red October, however as most of the films have been kind of crummy it isn’t exactly a deep bench. Maybe the batting average is solid with a Jack Ryan-verse movie every two decades but Without Remorse is one of the good ones, concerning a mission of vengeance with lots of new cold war overtones. The action is hard hitting, the lead actor is great, and there are multiple conspiracies and double-crosses which is mandatory in the spy thriller genre.
CIA operative John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) and his team are sent on a covert mission by the shady spook, Ritter (Jamie Bell) but things quickly go wrong. Months later, Kelly’s team are bumped off one by on US soil by Russian operatives and Kelly’s pregnant wife is killed. Kelly goes to find answers which involves shooting and burning down cars with very important Russians inside. This lands him in prison, but he is set free for a mission by Ritter along with Kelly’s sidekick Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) overseen by the vaguely untrustworthy Secretary Clay (Guy Pierce) and they arrive in Russia to find the killer operative, Viktor (Brett Gelman). But it turns out events are more complicated than they seem with potentially devastating global consequences.
Jordan as Kelly puts in an electric performance as Kelly. He’s given a mandatory tragic backstory with villains bumping off his pregnant wife and while the story point is cliché, the raiding scene of his home is very intense. The lead up to the goons bumping off various members of Kelly’s team beforehand has a genuinely creeping sense of menace as random folks are run over by unmarked vans and gunned down in the middle of the street. The best bit is when Kelly goes for revenge against Russian political higher ups and he takes care of it in extremely efficient way by immediately setting a car on fire and pummeling the chump inside for information. Another solid action scene when he takes out a handful of heavily armoured prison guards in his cell with his hands. Jordan sells that Kelly is a determined guy who can take out just about anyone else if pushed far enough. His wife (Lauren London) is basically just a stock loving wife character to generate sympathy when she’s brutally bumped off.
Bell as the spook with nebulous allegiances does his job appropriately by looking untrustworthy. There’s one face to face confrontation with Kelly that delivers an extra oomph moment when Kelly fires a gun about an inch away from Ritter’s head. Turner-Smith as Kelly’s comrade in arms is decently stern faced for her scenes. Viktor the Russian murderer who Kelly is chasing after for vengeance has one very tense scene when Kelly confronts Viktor and the revelations are surprising. Gelman as Viktor portrays someone who has been used by the system and just wants out with explosive results. As with many spy movies, there’s a secretary overseeing the mission as Clay repeatedly glowers. The best stuff Pierce has is his final scene where he gives a speech about what he believes, his ultimate global intentions and Clay’s final moments with Kelly are rather shockingly nasty.
Where Without Remorse really excels is in the action which is presented with immediacy by director Stefano Sollima (Sciario: Day of the Soldado). A key to good action in spy thrillers is to make it quick which sells the efficiency of how these trained soldiers work. The first scene has an incredibly badass shot that pans along water as Navy Seals take out some baddies rapidly and efficiently. A standout scene is when an airplane going to Russia is shot down with the team inside as the camera point of view shows from the inside as the plane crashes into the ocean and snaps in half. Kelly, being the heroic military guy he is, realizes they need their gear to complete their mission so he dives underwater to retrieve it. Things get crazy when they hit the ground in Russia where the situation goes from bad to worse as there’s multiple explosions and a sniper unexpectedly making things very difficult for the military crew. The sniper is presented as a menacing unstoppable presence, mercilessly picking people off from the shadows. When random police officers start getting gunned down for no reason by the snipers, Kelly starts to put together the pieces and the larger impact of what the attack could mean for the world.
Even though Jack Ryan himself doesn’t appear in Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, this definitely feels tonally a piece of the Jack Ryan-universe. Considering the series has been stuck in perpetual reboot mode ever since Harrison Ford left to see a snappy spy thriller in this world is nicely surprising. With even a blatant sequel bait mid-credits teaser, Without Remorse revitalizes the franchise.
Director: Stefano Sollima
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jodie Turner-Smith and Jamie Bell