Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse

TOM CLANCY is simply WITHOUT REMORSE is a new loosely-based-on-a-Tom-Clancy-book action movie starring Michael B. Jordan (RED TAILS) as John Kelly, the character who I guess is later played by Willem Dafoe in CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER and Liev Schreiber in THE SUM OF ALL FEARS. It was meant to be a major theatrical release, but after, you know – all this – Amazon bought it, so you gotta watch it on Prime. But you should do that if you can. This is a good one.

I am absolutely not a Tom Clancy guy, not even in movie form. One reason this is more my shit: less military hardware. It’s a more Seagal-ian premise: Navy SEAL’s wife is murdered, he goes out to avenge those responsible whether the agency will help him or not. In the book I guess that meant he killed a bunch of drug dealers, here it’s reimagined as a conspiracy related to a mission he went on, and I think it makes a statement against nationalism and even militarism. Kelly is very matter-of-fact about the violence upon his family being an extension of the violence he committed for the government. Of course, the film’s main objective is just to work as a military thriller, but it also seems cognizant that this stuff shouldn’t be thoughtlessly glorified, and I appreciate that. (Maybe it should be called NOT WITHOUT SOME REMORSE.)

An adaptation of this book has been in development since it was published in the ‘90s, and maybe it would’ve been a different type of my shit, because at one time John Milius was set to write and direct. More recently Christopher McQuarrie tried to do it with Tom Hardy, and of course I would’ve been excited to see that. But this version that was ultimately made is directed by Stefano Sollima (SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO), so he got his buddy Taylor Sheridan (SICARIO, HELL OR HIGH WATER, WIND RIVER) to rewrite the script by Will Staples (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3). And their touch is unmistakable.

Many reviews have been bad, and I was triggered seeing one that used the word “generic,” because I think there’s something truly unique about this hybrid of a crowd-pleasing ‘90s studio action thriller throwback and the SICARIO style. You know that kind of feel I’m talking about? I’ve called it arthouse badass, but you could also call it (to borrow a controversial horror term) elevated action. I personally believe the best movies in the world are the ones where people do flips for no reason and jump motorcycles into helicopters, but I can also appreciate this broody realistic strain of action, which maybe comes out of raw ‘70s thrillers, or maybe the shootout in HEAT, but I sense some of it in all of Sheridan’s movies as well as SPARTAN, REDBELT, THE AMERICAN, THE LIMEY, MIAMI VICE, BLACKHAT, A VIGILANTE, ZERO DARK THIRTY, things like that. It doesn’t always give you the pleasure that a roundhouse kick would – instead you keep getting a feeling that this must be more what it would really be like than what you usually see in the movies. And that feels very exciting and dangerous.

If the plot is more generic than the style, well, that’s kind of its job here, and at times it seems beside the point – I was invested in a revelation about the truth and implications of Kelly’s situation, but more excited that he figured it out while trying to take out two snipers across the street so he and his team could escape an exploded building surrounded by police in hostile territory.

At the start of the film, elite soldier Kelly has decided to retire early to be with his pregnant (oh, god damn it) wife Pam (Lauren London, ATL). But he’s just a little too late. One night all the other soldiers who were on a hostage rescue mission gone wrong in Aleppo are ambushed and killed at home. Kelly manages to get the drop on his attackers, killing three of the four, but he and Pam are both shot. Pam dies, of course, but John Kelly is hard to kill.

The dead guys turn out to be Russian operatives, but the higher ups, of course, decide they can’t retaliate. Secretary of Defense Clay (Guy Pearce, LOCKOUT) says his hands are tied after CIA Deputy Director Ritter (Jamie Bell, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS), who was in Aleppo and already rubbed Kelly the wrong way, told him that it’s a ‘no’ from Director Dillard (Lucy Russell, FOLLOWING). Clay can’t contradict the director, who he just calls “Sarah.”

Kelly’s old Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith, THE NEON DEMON) breaks the news to him and, sighing that she’s gonna get arrested for it, shows him some files that will get him started on his hunt for his wife’s killers. Greer is a really cool character, more by-the-book than Kelly, and sometimes in opposition to him, but they clearly love and respect each other and absolutely have each other’s backs. This type of bond is always appealing in movies, but if I’ve ever seen it with a male-female friendship I can’t think of what it is.

Kelly’s crusade starts with vigilante attacks on Russian nationals with security detail, but he obtains information to use as leverage to work with the secretary and the CIA for his purposes. So there’s intimate DEATH WISH shit and men-on-a-mission teamwork shit and also some spectacle – I really have never seen anything quite like the plane crash, which is followed by an even more intense sequence in which he stubbornly insists on getting the mission gear out of the back of the plane while underwater.

That shit is top shelf, but my favorite action beat by far is a little smaller scale. I won’t give away any details, but it’s a scene where he’s in prison and realizes they’re gonna try to kill him so he looks at the few resources he has available to him in his cell, makes a plan for how to use them to his advantage, and steels himself for an uphill battle. I guarantee it is some of the most badass shit you will see this year.

(Also did it remind anybody else of the opening scene of BLOOD AND BONE? With a touch of the best scene in LOST BULLET?)

The action is more gun oriented than fight oriented, which is not my preference, but seems authentic here. Kelly does get to do a little bashing, and seems adept at it – the fight coordinator is Can Aydin (POINT BREAK remake, and Keanu stunt double in THE MATRIX 4).

There is occasional corniness. Kelly trots out the ol’ “compare everything to chess” saw several times, and I laughed at seeing some of the letters of the word “HOTEL” blinking outside of a window. Normally Sollima is a director who would trust us to figure out he’s in a seedy hotel just by seeing what the room looks like. I’m betting this was the one contribution from producer Akiva Goldmsan (LOST IN SPACE, BATMAN FOREVER). He was probly pushing for an onscreen SEEDY HOTEL subtitle with computer typity typity sounds, and Sollima compromised with the neon letters.

But there are only a handful of those type of groaners and a whole bunch more distinctive little details. During the home invasion he and an attacker shoot each other, and a dropped flashlight rolls around in a circle until it illuminates the other guy’s face, making it possible to identify him later. In another scene he interrogates a man inside a burning car, and the eery sounds of the windows beginning to crack from the heat act as sort of a countdown.

In story outline this could be a Seagal movie, but it’s not the same. Jordan’s idea of an action hero is generally stoic, and hyper-masculine in terms of sculpting his body to ridiculous proportions, but it does not preclude showing emotion. He includes the ugly, sobbing grief at his loss that most action heroes of previous eras would replace with, like, looking sadly out a window while touching their wedding ring.

I don’t consider it Jordan’s best performance or character (I prefer CREED), but it’s so obvious he’s putting his all into it that you gotta admire it. Here’s a tiny thing that I’m not entirely sure about but I think it’s a good summary of his attitude toward this performance. He clearly had to do a bunch of Tom Cruise style holding-his-breath underwater stunt work. Of course I don’t know how much of that is illusion or stunt doubles, but it never looks like a special effect, and definitely some of it is him really doing it. But there’s a scene where he’s submerged underwater, and he’s just sitting there thinking. A very emotional moment. I don’t know if he’s actually underwater. It almost looks like it could be just a lighting effect, except his face looks weird – pushed around by the pressure of the water. I asked out loud, “Is he acting underwater?” I really think he might’ve held his breath in a tank for a scene portraying emotion through his expressions. If not, well, this is still the type of movie where you believe he would do that.

And it’s a good cast overall. Lots of rugged dudes I’m not familiar with as his capable allies. Cam Gigandet (PANDORUM) is in it too, but he’s kind of like Emilio Estevez in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, if you catch my drift. I really like Bell and the way he and Jordan bounce off of each other here, and only when I started working on this review did it occur to me that oh shit, they were two of the FANTASTIC FOUR together. They could become this generation’s Woody & Wesley.

When they announced this film they also announced a sequel, based on a Tom Clancy video game, THE RAINBOW BUNCH. (That’s not what it’s called but I have retitled it because I am an author too and have sold literally hundreds of books, so I think I know a little bit about what sells today.) Sure enough they set up that sequel at the end here, and predictably, cynicism toward pre-planned franchises is a preoccupation in many of the negative reviews I’ve seen. But it’s one little scene during the credits, you don’t even have to watch that scene, let alone the movie (if they make it), so who gives a shit?

What matters is that this is a good director, writer and star taking the template of a very normal type of movie and making something distinctive and better than required with it. If this counts as generic then things are looking up in the world of action.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 5th, 2021 at 12:04 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

29 Responses to “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse”

  1. Dammit. I was hoping this one would suck because it’s on Prime and I don’t have Prime and now I don’t know how I’m gonna watch it. Does Prims put their movies on disc? I’d order it from Amazon anyway so Bezos is getting my money one way or the other.

  2. Yes, that scene reminded me of both BLOOD AND BONE and LOST BULLET.

    I don’t think I loved this one quite as much as this review makes me think I should. It should’ve been fun to see Sollima and Sheridan twist a Tom Clancy story into an indictment of the (SPOILER) military-industrial complex but it all seemed a little on the nose. And the cast, who were really very good were nonetheless distracting, as they’re mostly British and Australian in a story that I think might’ve benefitted from casting actual Americans. I see this was largely filmed at Babelsberg, which explains, if not excuses, the casting.

    I’m not a Tom Clancy guy either, but (SPOILER AGAIN) I really couldn’t see him producing a story that, even at this remove, would take a dump on the CIA, especially when there was a politician played by Guy Pearce to hand to take the fall.

    I should focus on the action, I know, as yes it was great, but somehow I didn’t when I was watching, and I can’t now.

  3. I enjoyed this one. The underwater stuff and prison cell scene were the highlights for me. I did have to say outloud, “Come on!” when he reached through flames with a bare hand and grasped a metal car door handle with seemingly no burns. I really appreciated that they didn’t have the usual dream/fantasy sequence of the dead wife in bed, under the covers, wearing lingerie, incandescently lit, his POV, while she smiles and laughs and says his name. Although, is even a revenge against his wife’s killers movie without it?

    I also really liked the relationship with his commander. Another one of the little scenes you could’ve included, Vern, was when he was poking at her in a brotherly fashion, trying to get a rise out of her while she was annoyed with him and she twisted his wrist making him cry uncle.

    I had to chuckle at the enemies being Russian. I am unfamiliar with the book, but changing them from drug dealers makes me wonder if they were consciously trying to take it back to old school Clancy by bringing in the Russian political element.

  4. Unfortunately most of their movies don’t come out on disc. There are exceptions, like CHI-RAQ, PATERSON, THE BIG SICK and SUSPIRIA (which weirdly had a blu-ray release but not DVD in the U.S.). I’m not sure if being a co-production with a specific other studio is a factor in those decisions or not. But it seems like it would be crazy not to have a movie titled after the ultimate airport novelist available in every possible format.

  5. Also, I think the relationship between Denzel and Melissa Leo in the EQUALIZERs qualifies as a male/female combat bro type relationship.

  6. My brain read “They could become this generation’s Woody & Wesley” as “they could become this generation’s Wheeler & Woolsey”, which would be quite interesting.

    I don’t know if this is quite 25 years of development, adaptation of a fan favourite book by a famous author good, but I agree that this is much more interesting than a lot of critics, who perhaps had their reviews half-written when they saw the trailer, have given it credit for.

  7. Franchise Fred

    May 5th, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    I also liked Michael B’ Jordan’s Tom Clancy’s John Clark IS Without Remorse.

    Hardcore Clancy was always a little too dense for me, although McTiernan makes Red October work and it’s cool Patriot Games shot in my hometown Annapolis. It’s funny how the last two movies, and even the Jack Ryan Amazon series sort of made it more accessible action.

    I guess I still couldn’t tell you what the conspiracy was in this but I got the broad strokes of John being an underdog and those scenes like the prison cell, underwater and the staircase had such clear action geography it really is a revelation in 2021.

  8. I like this movie a lot, though I’m still chuckling at the ludicrous opening where him and his team are all covert with scuba gear in a little pool in the middle of a landlocked nation. That’s some Frank Drebin shit and it’s never ever mentioned again. Everything after that is really well-executed and cleverly written, but that initial moment is preposterous and I love it

  9. Am only reading this review after I catch it this weekend but am cautiously optimistic so far based on the reviews. Adaptations of Clancy have been a mixed bag of mediocrity for me outside of the still excellent HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. The Ford movies haven’t aged well, the Affleck one just plain dull and can’t even remember the Chris Pine one. I haven’t watched the TV series.

    Was a rabid Clancy fan when I was younger but my interest tapered off when his politics started swamping the narrative, somewhere around DEBT OF HONOR onwards.

    WITHOUT REMORSE, the book for me was the LICENSE TO KILL of the Clancy Verse. You expected the usual blend of complex plotting, Byzantine Politics, Geo-Political Techno-thriller, Spec-Ops details and action and instead got drug dealers, murder and revenge.

  10. I agree, this is a really good version of this type of movie. I enjoyed it. I didn’t even realize there was a post-credit sequence, though, had to go back and check it out after reading this review.

    The prison fight also reminded me of the movie STARRED UP. It’s not an action movie at all, it’s a UK prison drama (a violent kid played by Jack O’Connell ends up in the same prison as his estranged father, played by Ben Mendelsohn). But there’s a scene early on where the main character similarly uses all the resources in his cell to defend himself from the guards and then gets them to back off by taking one hostage. It’s the more brutal, realistic version of the scene.

  11. I found this rather generic tbh. For a (bloated pointlessly nearly 700 pages long) source book which was basically DEATH WISH meets RAMBO 2, I would’ve expected more heat and sadistic fun in such a revenge programmer, this is just too dry for my taste. Also points deducted for them not using the pressure chamber interrogation, the best thing from the book.

    Jordan is a movie star stud, I enjoyed his friendly chemistry with the gal who played Greer’s niece. Always nice even in 2021 to have men/women friendly relationships that are purely platonic. But the poor guy signed up for what he hoped would be his JOHN WICK sorta franchise, but instead he ended up with a CHAIN REACTION.

    Something about Clancy’s stuff Hollywood has struggled adapting the last few times.* A friend theorized that the problem is that Clancy’s gimmick was his scenarios, not his characters, that was appeal and alot of those scenarios were from a specific geopolitical time and place that you can’t just interchange the cogs like a Marvel picture or something. So you’re stuck with characters who aren’t that interesting/unique and trying to update them to modern times and thus you’re stuck with being unable to differentiate yourself from the political thriller/special ops niche genre marketplace, despite Clancy helping to inform said marketplace as we know it today.

    Or contrast it, the original James Bond books were products of their time but Bond is Bond and alot of those characters are memorable. Theres a reason why EON was able to adapt all (if not most of them) Ian Fleming stories/books for decades afterwards, even if they increasingly had to further tweak as time went on.

    *=JACK RYAN (the movie, not the show) was also “eh,” but I give it props for going balls deep with Moscow being the bad guys and not the Russian mob or rogue agents or whatever exit. I certainly thought the bad guys’ premise was Clancy-ian despite not being inspired by any of his works. Maybe my standards have lowered since I’m impressed whenever Hollywood is willing to alienate a major foreign market these days.

  12. Sorry I forgot another thing that bugged me: *SPOILER* the movie initially going from a Trumpian-era angle of the U.S. government either being too impotent (or worse complicit) with the Russians to becoming a Deep State fairy tale fantasy, as if the filmmakers were afraid they might alienate Clancy’s natural red meat/right wing audience too much. If they were hoping for a clever twist that’s commentary for our world today…it backfired.

  13. >This type of bond is always appealing in movies, but if I’ve ever seen it with a male-female friendship I can’t think of what it is.

    Max and Furiosa?

  14. I can also give a big thumbs up to STARRED UP as mentioned above, that along with ’71 (which I think Vern would enjoy and is directed by the amazingly named Yann Damage) are great examples of why Jack O’Connell should be a huge star.

  15. Kaplan – You know I love the Max and Furiosa relationship. I was thinking of the “we’re old war buddies who have been through all kinds of shit together over the years and know we have each other’s backs” bond. Majestyk’s example from THE EQUALIZER does qualify, I think.

  16. I admit, reading some non-Vern reviews had turned me off to this one, but now I’m kinda interested. Your description of the prison-cell fight made me wonder how it compares to similar stuff in AVENGEMENT…

  17. Stuart Little

    May 6th, 2021 at 2:16 pm

    Thought it was okay, but the plot felt kinda too stop and start and kept shifting gears too much to let me get completely into it. It was marketed and starts off like a “one man revenge rampage” action thriller, but after his badass interrogation of the Russian at the airport, he ends up recruited into a team and the brakes get hit. I expect Rainbow Six (which is famed as a video game series now but was a novel first) will be better by being more cohesive and focused on the team being made and going up against a more defined threat.

  18. JTS you nailed it: I thought of Starred Up as soon as I saw that scene; but I liked this scene maybe a little more. Worth checking out that film for those who haven’t seen it.

    I really enjoyed “Michael B Jordan is Out for Remorse”. I’m glad I saw the neg reviews before watching it as it was so much better than i expected.

  19. I’m tottaly aligned with Vern’s review on this one.
    I too read some of the reviews and was bummed. Then saw the movie and loved it.
    Solima has a great eye, with steady shots that stay long on the subjects / situations. All the setpieces were expertly made.
    I too was amused by the fact that the 2 “all American” guys, a head of a ministry and a CIA guy, are Australian and English respectively!
    The whole thing was very well made, loved also the “you know it’s a studio but you buy it” Russia showdown on the building. Cgi was used to enhance and not distract which is always welcome too.

  20. I’m super interested in how they did the van running over the guy shot. That was an amazing stunt.

  21. I’m super interested in how they did the van running over the guy shot. That was an amazing stunt.

  22. Owen – that was crazy how real that looked! I gasp/screamed and then was actually kind of upset about it.

  23. Wait, isn’t this ‘evil American hawks try to provoke a war with peace-loving Putin’ stuff the exact same plot Vern had a problem with when Angel Has Fallen did it?

  24. Kaplan – (SPOILERS) First, the ultimate solution to the conspiracy is the silliest part of the movie. He seemed to be doing it as a WATCHMEN type of unity plan (but just within the United States), which is ridiculous. I had to tell myself that was the character’s bullshit cover story for some other motive in order to forgive it. Second, having re-read my ANGEL HAS FALLEN review and now remembering what that was about, no, it is not the same complaint at all. I said that the politics were “less horrendous than those of part 2” but noted that the movie’s plot point of false “Russian collusion” accusations seemed designed “to keep delusional Trump worshippers on board.” And then I thought it was funny that poor Morgan Freeman had to be green-screened into footage giving a friendly smile to real life dictator Vladimir Putin. So whether or not the plots are similar, the same complaints are not applicable. Also it’s simply a far superior action movie. Though Nick Nolte would’ve been a welcome addition.

  25. I think his stated reason might’ve been just ‘boast the economy with a war.’ At any rate, I get that Hollywood doesn’t want to offend anyone (besides North Korea, I guess), but I’m getting pretty bored of the ‘evil rogue intelligence community 9/11 Truther villain,’ since it’s gotten to the point where Bond, Bourne, Ethan Hunt, and even Vin Diesel are all fighting these guys across the entire spy movie genre.

  26. Just saw it. Not bad. HARD TO KILL by way of EXTRACTION although the action is not a patch on Sam Hargrave’s inventive filming and choreography. I wished we had more scenes like the interrogation in a burning car and Jordan’s Beast Mode in the cell. And given how much it deviates from the source material, was it even necessary to link this to the Clancy book? Off Tangent Rumination: Just how big a deal is Clancy nowadays anyway?

    I’d echo a poster above by saying the merging of 2 Action Styles in one doesn’t work:

    Either give me a One Man Army on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge Or a Dirty Dozen/A-Team/Expendables style Men on A Mission with a Charismatic and Cool Leader commanding a bunch of Bad-Asses each with a Quirky Personality Trait.

    Don’t mash them up.

    Sure, it kinda worked with PREDATOR but you knew it was always going to be down to Arnie Vs Kevin Peter Hall.

  27. “Just how big a deal is Clancy nowadays anyway?”

    I think the public knows his name more from being attached to random video game titles, than his novels or movies based on them.

  28. Apropos of nothing, I would like to plug Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man. It’s way less silly than other Ritchie/Statham joints, but way more bad ass. It has the loudest gunshots since Heat.

  29. Clancy is a “dad” brand, or basically 007 without the history/prestige.

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