Thursday, September 9, 2021

"WITHOUT REMORSE" (2021) Review


"WITHOUT REMORSE" (2021) Review

Three years ago, Amazon Prime had premiered a series about the adventures of C.I.A. analyst, Jack Ryan. After two seasons, the series has yet to adapt any particular novel by the character's creator, Tom Clancy. However, it pretty much set up Ryan's origin story. Recently, Amazon Prime released "WITHOUT REMORSE", an origin tale about another one of Clancy's characters - namely "John Clark".

Anyone familiar with Clancy's Jack Ryan novels would know that "John Clark" is former U.S. Navy SEAL operative John Kelly, who became a black ops agent for the C.I.A. The character has appeared in two Clancy film adaptations - 1994's "CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER" and "THE SUM OF ALL FEARS". However, "WITHOUT REMORSE" marked the first time in which Kelly/Clark served as the main protagonist in an adaptation of a Clancy novel. This should not be surprising since the movie is based upon Clancy's 1993 novel of the same title.

"WITHOUT REMORSE" begins in Aleppo, where Senior Chief John Kelly and a team of other Navy SEALs led by Lieutenant-Commander Karen Greer rescue a CIA operative taken hostage by a suspected pro-Assad paramilitary group. The situation escalates when the SEALs discover that the operative's captors happened to be Russian military. The latter apparently retaliates against the SEALs for the mission by sending Russian FSB operatives to kill several members of the SEALs. They managed to kill two members of the team. When they break into Kelly's home to kill him, they accidentally kill his pregnant wife Pam, not realizing that Kelly was in the basement. He manages to kill all of the FSB operatives inside his home and badly wound the last survivor, who manages to escape, before enduring near-fatal wounds himself. With the help of Lieutenant-Commander Greer and reluctantly, the C.I.A., a vengeful Kelly decides to go after the surviving FSB agent and discover the truth behind the attacks on his SEAL team.

I have never read Clancy's 1993 novel, but I have read a detailed synopsis of its plot. Needless to say, screenwriters Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples made some major changes in the 2021 adaptation. Unlike the novel, the death of Kelly's wife played a role in the conspiracy that loomed over the Aleppo mission. In fact, the literary Pam was a drug mule/prostitue whom Kelly had befriended and whose death he wanted to kill after she was raped and murdered by her drug-dealer/pimp. The Aleppo mission was basically a replay of a mission involving Vietnam War P.O.W.s and a K.G.B. mole. To be perfectly honest, I found Clancy's novel rather convoluted. Kelly's narrative arc seemed to be torn between the plot line involving Pam and the drug-dealer/pimp and the situation regarding the P.O.W.s, with no real connection between the two. Sheridan and Staples made a wise decision to combine aspects of Clancy's two narrative arcs into one plot line for the movie.

Another aspect about "WITHOUT REMORSE" I find interesting is that Amazon Prime had decided to produce a movie about the John Kelly/Clark character. The fact that the company started with an adaptation of a novel about the character's origin only makes me wonder if it has plans for the Kelly/Clark character to make his appearance in a future episode or season of "JACK RYAN". Or . . . if Amazon Prime has plans for Ryan to appear in another production with Kelly/Clark as the lead. Both Ryan and Kelly/Clark are known as the two biggest characters in Clancy's literary "Ryanverse" franchise. And the pair became close friends and colleagues as well.

Not only did "WITHOUT REMORSE" prove to be an improvement on the 1993 novel's plot, it also featured some first-rate action sequences. Actually there were two action scenes that really impressed me, thanks to Stefano Sollima's direction. One of those sequences featured the SEAL team's efforts to rescue the C.I.A. operative in the film's opening scene. I thought it was well handled. But I was especially impressed by Sollima's handling of the movie's last action sequence that featured Kelly and the others' efforts to find the fourth FSB operative in Murmansk. I believe this sequence was enhanced by the cast's performances and Sollima's efforts to convey a sense of impeding doom for the SEAL team.

Most of the performances featured in "WITHOUT REMORSE" struck me as solid, but not particularly mind-blowing. These solid performances came from the likes of Brett Gelman, Lauren London, Lucy Russell, Luke Mitchell and surprisingly Colman Domingo and Guy Pearce. I say "surprisingly" in regard to Domingo and Pearce, considering that both actors are usually known for delivering outstanding performances - even in supporting roles. I thought both actors did not seem to be putting much effort in their performances. However, I enjoyed the performances of Jodie Turner-Smith, who portrayed Kelly/Clark's commander Karen Greer and Jamie Bell (lead Michael B. Jordan's former co-star from 2015's "FANTASTIC FOUR"), who portrayed C.I.A. officer Robert Ritter. I thought Turner-Smith did an excellent job in conveying both the warmth and commanding presence of Greer. And Bell was excellent as the ambiguous and at times, manipulative Ritter. I certainly had no problems with Michael B. Jordan's portrayal of the vengeful Kelly. I thought he did an excellent job of conveying his character's emotional journey from a man satisfied with his life, grief, revenge and finally willingness to start a new path. If I had to choose two scenes that I really enjoyed, they were Kelly finally facing his grief over his wife's death and his confrontation with the movie's main villain.

As much as I enjoyed "WITHOUT REMORSE", I must admit that I had two problems with Sheridan and Staples' screenplay. Both were featured in the film's finale. Kelly, Greer, her SEAL team and C.I.A. officer Robert Ritter went to Murmansk in order to find the last FSB operative who had survived the attack on Kelly's home. After Kelly, Greer and her SEAL team managed to survive what proved to be a trap, the movie focused on Kelly discovering who was truly behind the Aleppo mission, the attacks on Kelly, his wife and two other SEAL operatives; and the Murmansk mission. Needless to say, this hunt for the "Big Bad" felt like a rush job. I truly wish they had taken the trouble to convey how Kelly learned who was responsible for the conspiracy behind the Aleppo and Murmansk missions, along with the murders of the two SEAL operatives and Pam Kelly. Also, the main villain's motives behind the conspiracy struck me as unoriginal. I have seen this scenario used in so many political thrillers over the years that it seemed a pity that Sheridan and Staples' screenplay could not be more original.

Yes, "WITHOUT REMORSE" had its flaws. But flawed or not, I still believe that it was an improvement over Tom Clancy's original 1993 novel. I have to give credit to Stefano Sollima's energetic direction, a solid screenplay by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples; along with a first-rate cast led by the always excellent Michael B. Jordan. I do not know if this movie will be considered part of Amazon Prime's "Ryanverse", but a part of me hope so. It would be a waste if it was not.

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