Taylor Sheridan is one of the few writers working today that, for me, is more likely to attract me to a project than the filmmaker bringing it to life. His filmography is impressive even after less than a decade. Sicario and Hell or High Water are both great movies, elevated by their direction, but they leave Sheridan’s dialogue and nihilistic tone at the forefront of your mind. So I wondered what his latest project would be like as the latest iteration of an action franchise which does have a long history despite not being as notable for the genre as James Bond or John Wick. I did a little experiment going into Without Remorse. As someone not familiar with Tom Clancy’s catalog, I decided to go back and watch a couple of the Jack Ryan films leading up to this one. The Harrison Ford-led Ryan movies are pure 90s, and Patriot Games is perfect rainy Thursday afternoon schlock. Clear and Present Danger carries a much more serious tone out of the two, so I was curious what attitude this new film would have.
From the beginning, Without Remorse establishes itself as a new breed of Ryanverse, with director Stefano Sollima setting a cold tone with the opening act. The film follows previous sidekick, John Clark, on a mission in Syria with a strike team. It doesn’t go as planned and it’s revealed they’ve instead ambushed a Russian strike team, and more Russian soldiers come hunting on American soil for the unit. After they kill members of Clark’s team, as well as his pregnant wife, he joins in on a new operation to take his revenge and set things right. From what I can tell by skimming a summary of the novel of the same title, Sheridan and co-writer Will Staples took the name and ran with it, leaving everything else behind and making a much simpler military revenge story.
What the movie lacks in originality it makes up for in execution, as well as the performance of its lead. Michael B. Jordan is fully committed to the role of John Clark, and that allows him and the rest of the team to have a new level of stunt work for this franchise. From jailbreaks with elaborate setups and executions to an elongated sequence in Russia filled with practical explosions, Sollima and company didn’t come to mess around. The film is at its best in its mindless moments where the audience is allowed to revel in the violence. There’s a kinetic energy to it that rivals any big budget action flick coming out right now, so if you’re down to see some people get hurt, this one’s for you.
Where the movie falters is in… most other respects. The tone of this thing is all over the place. Lines like “I’m the smartass, he’s more of a badass” put in with the gloomy color grading of Syria makes for an odd tonal imbalance. Once the movie gets on its feet it can be quite enjoyable, but comparing this to the 90s predecessors reveals some changes in writing that I don’t really care for. Something I’ve noticed in a lot of action flicks these days is the need to insist upon a character’s stature through dialogue, even if the audience has already been shown their capabilities. There’s a difference in discussing whether or not Clark is fit for the job at hand and having people actually try to sabotage him with good old political red tape, but a roundtable discussion around the revenge mission to Russia amounts to “Is Clark badass enough to pull this off?” Scenes fit for a trailer like a conversation between the two leads where one insists on the other’s capabilities is just another example. Though I will admit the script does have its moments even when things slow down, especially in a scene where John and Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) discuss the role of soldiers in America, especially Black soldiers. It’s cut and dry, nowhere near the full condemnation of the hypocrisy of the system that something like Da 5 Bloods served as, but it’s at least something to latch on to.
The biggest failing of Without Remorse is that it tries to combine the family dynamics of Patriot Games and the international turmoil of Clear and Present Danger, and fails at both by trying to mash them together. Clark’s quest for revenge is quickly skipped over when the mission they’ve been sent on continues to shed layers of dissent and betrayal, but the mission itself is a get-in and get-out affair that’s been done better in simpler action movies. If you have Amazon Prime it won’t hurt to give this one a go, but it doesn’t exactly have me excited for a future Rainbow Six picture. Personally, I’ll be sticking to Harrison Ford’s run.