Michael B. Jordan gets his own big-budget action franchise as John Kelly aka John Clark in the adaptation to Tom Clancy’s Novel Without Remorse.
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse has it all; Big Budget, charismatic Lead, arresting action sequences, amazing direction, and stellar supporting cast. It’s enough to make up for the lackluster changes made by screenwriters in order to update the dated story of vengeance.
Master Chief John Kelly (Jordan) and his team are able to successfully pull off a rescue operation. Kelly knows that something isn’t right about the mission they were given by Ritter (Jamie Bell) a CIA Officer in charge and on the mission. Kelly’s suspicions are right when his wife (Lauren London) is killed in what appears to be a professional hit. With the help of Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Secretary of Defense Smith (Guy Pearce) Kelly is able to exact revenge on those that have murdered what he held so dear. Though Greer, Ritter, and Kelly begin to discover there is much more at play on the world stage than reciprocity against Kelly.
Without Remorse is the perfect starting point for a franchise built around Michael B. Jordan. Nothing is skirted in the production’s budget. There is something refreshing about seeing Jordan move his way through a world of cloak and dagger where the brain is as much of a weapon as brawn. The film is built around perfectly directed and executed action set pieces. This is the kind of film that will make one miss seeing things unfold on a giant IMAX size screen. This action puts Jordan front and center and adroitly uses each of these set pieces to further the story along. The best of which takes place in a prison and wrings every amount of tension one could from the situation.
Director Stefano Sollima, cinematographer Phillippe Rousselot, editor Matthew Newman, and the Stunt team lead by coordinators Can Aydin, Sandra Barger, Doug Coleman, Ralf Haeger, and Justin Yu pull off some impressive work with the action. Action junkies will be impressed with the way the set pieces, even things as pedestrian as a building shootout, are uniquely executed. There is this ground level to giant-scale the filmmaking team is able to pull off will impress. Those that know Kelly through the Tom Clancy universe (both novels and games) will delight in a specific underwater sequence that is impressive in its scale and execution.
The biggest issue stems from the script/adaptation of the Clancy Novel. The novel Without Remorse released in 1995 is definitely a product of its era. A cringe-inducing tale of a white man (John Kelly) circa the early 1970s taking his vengeance on a group of Black Drug dealers who killed a former sex slave who escaped and fell in love with Kelly. This Charles Bronson-esque fevered dream prequel mansplaining the what’s what of how John Kelly became John Clark Super Assassin was dated even back then.
What screenwriters Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples have done is traded a very troubling narrative for one that is standard issue. Their strength in action and adhering those action beats to character is A-Level and beyond reproach. The story is at its best when it is moving through the action beats. Where Sheridan and Staples fail to elevate the film is in its “chess” game the characters are playing. Part of the issue is that an audience can see the end game before our heroes do, even before it’s revealed to them. One would want and expect the Political Intrigue portion of the story, one aspect that Clancy always prided himself in (with good reason as his books were meticulously researched and written), to be better than the almost rudimentary paint by numbers that they have concocted.
In relation, the parts that suffer the most are the ones played by Jodie Turner-Smith, Jamie Bell, and Guy Pearce. Each does solid work with individual scenes. Though their roles are almost written to archetype and leave little room for them to do anything but standard issue work. Though when your supporting cast is Turner-Smith, Bell and Pearce there is definitely an elevated nature to everything that occurs. The work between Bell and Jordan is quite effective leading to a truly tense confrontation. Turner-Smith is a bit stranded as she does a magnificent job with a role that is essentially exposition and moving the plot forward. Pearce is incapable of a bad performance even when he’s doing the standard-issue Conservative Southern Politician. Bonus points for casting Colman Domingo and Lauren London in small but pivotal roles (which they both manage to steal scenes they are in).
Without Remorse is a great starting point for a John Clark (I know I’ve been saying Kelly… but non-Clancy fans will understand) led film franchise. The fact that Jordan is locked in and in full Star mode gives us even more reason for a sequel. One hopes that if they do make a sequel, and it is an adaptation of Rainbow Six, as promised. They either keep the political intrigue plot (which with a few minor adjustments could be searingly good) and premise this film has set the stage for a truly great piece of intelligent action entertainment. As it stands now, Without Remorse with a few minor quibbles is a solid elevated piece of action entertainment.