Directed by Stefano Sollima
Written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples
Michael B. Jordan is an undeniable star in Hollywood. Along with director Ryan Coogler, Jordan has climbed to stardom with the same movies: Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Black Panther, but with Without Remorse, Jordan now splits from the Coogler machine and attempts to take on well known military tale teller Tom Clancy. Clancy’s legacy on pop culture and specifically Hollywood is perhaps underappreciated. His stories have brought us the indelible character Jack Ryan, which has had multiple iterations, but include Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Hunt for Red October, and the Amazon series Jack Ryan, which are all tense, action packed films. So Without Remorse, in conjunction with the star powers of Jordan, is as exciting an action release we’ve had this year, with the potential to craft a pretty intense, entertaining, and lasting film. Jack Ryan has a great track record, but can moving away from that character, deeper into the Tom Clancy catalog still find success?
After a special op in Aleppo turns out to engage with Russian agents, the team starts to turn up dead back stateside in America. But when the killers come calling on John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan), he thwarts the attack, but not before his pregnant wife is murdered, setting Kelly off on a revenge path to uncover the meaning behind these coordinated attacks. Along with his team leader Karen (Jodie Turner-Smith), and a questionable CIA operative (Jamie Bell), they set off on a new mission sanctioned by Secretary Clay (Guy Pearce) to seek out a Russian agent Kelly identified as getting away from his home, long thought dead. But when the team sets out to Russian to track him down, things go sideways, as the true nature of the threat begins to reveal itself.
With any Tom Clancy military movie, perhaps the first thing you’re looking for in intrigue and action. Without Remorse has both in droves, with multiple action sequences, and a deep conspiracy storyline at its center. On that front, the film delivers, along with a very dedicated performance from Michael B. Jordan, who may not be given nearly as much to chew on as with some of his more notable roles, but brings that charisma and on screen presence that can’t be taught. That being said, the action is somewhat ho-hum, with no set pieces standing out as particularly innovative or exciting. In many instances, they take place in nighttime, low light, photographed in too much darkness to be able to keep up with the choreography of the action. I wouldn’t say the action is bad, but when the film is designed around it, being average just doesn’t quite cut it.
I will say as well that the conspiracy at the center of the plot was also very telegraphed. Both in the casting choices and how director Stefano Sollima structured the film, the twist was very transparent to this viewer, and I imagine many others. Even knowing the twist, the journey was still a fun enough ride to hold my attention for a few hours, to distract and keep me engaged. And look, not every new movie has to redefine the genre to be relevant and find its audience. When the film was starting, I was thinking to myself about how the movie release landscape as shifted. Pre-pandemic, a Michael B. Jordan Tom Clancy action movie would be the hot release on an April weekend, and likely have a decent take at the box office. But today, it finds itself as streaming service fodder that will likely find a decent audience as well for the same reasons. But will Without Remorse find its place in the cultural discourse as it would have had it been released theatrically? Perhaps not.
And some of that has to do with its placement on the calendar, and nature of its release. But so too I think the quality of the film itself. It seems perfectly suited for a streaming service like Amazon, where bored users can click a thumbnail of Michael B. Jordan in a military uniform holding a gun and escape for a few hours. Since the film is underwhelming in some ways, it avoids the second week drop at the box office. Instead, it will likely disappear in a month or so and be a footnote in what I only expect to be a long and brilliant career for Michael B. Jordan. He could do much worse. So too could you if you find yourself flipping through thumbnails on a Wednesday night looking for a few hours escape.