Tom Clancy's Without Remorse

Director: Stefano Sollima
Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples (screen story by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples; based on the novel by Tom Clancy)
Stars: Michael B. Jordan (John Kelly), Jodie Turner-Smith (Karen Greer), Jamie Bell (Robert Ritter), Guy Pearce (Secretary Clay), Lauren London (Pam Kelly), Jacob Scipio (Hatchet), Todd Lasance (Dallas), Jack Kesy (Thunder), Lucy Russell (CIA Director Dillard), Cam Gigandet (Keith Webb), Luke Mitchell (Rowdy King), Artjom Gilz (Artem), Brett Gelman (Viktor Rykov)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2021
Country: U.S.
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse

One could be forgiven for thinking that the prominent use of author Tom Clancy’s name in Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, the film adaptation of his 1993 novel, is a bit disingenuous since the only thing novel and film have in common is the title and the main character. Otherwise, screenwriters Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and Will Staples (a veteran of video games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3) have pretty much thrown out everything, including the novel’s Vietnam-era setting, in favor of a wholly new narrative that is clearly intended to supply the foundation on which a new series of films can be built. Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is an action thriller, but more directly it is a two-hour set-up, establishing the bona fides of the main character, a Navy SEAL named John Kelly, via an origin story that leaves him at the end as a rogue agent ready to continue doing battle on behalf of the U.S. government against any nefarious international baddies that might come our way.

Kelly is played by Michael B. Jordan, the magnetic star who has been on the rise since his powerful turn in Fruitville Station (2013) and the two Creed films (2015 and 2018). He is handed a ready-made character in the tortured hero mode, as Kelly spends most of the film on a mission of vengeance that happens to overlap with an official military operation to take out Russian terrorists in the heart of Moscow. The film’s opening action sequence establishes him as a man of great violence and skill and determination, while the middle section brings him down to earth as a doting husband (his wife is played by Lauren London) and expecting father. More really needed to be done here to give greater weight to the tragedy that befalls him; as is, it works on paper, but doesn’t really supply the kind of grief and horror that would propel him into a new life as a vengeance-seeking vigilante.

There is more, though, including a CIA honcho named Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), who may be working both sides, and the Secretary of Defense (Guy Pearce), who recognizes Kelly’s unique capacities and how he can help the larger cause. Kelly works directly with his commanding officer, Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith, Queen & Slim), who appreciates his abilities, but also questions whether he is fit to serve in his current capacity. In other words, there is all manner of mistrust and distrust among those who are working together, which gives added punch to the film’s extended climax in a Moscow hotel where Kelly and his team are battling against Russian soldiers, police officers, and a particularly nasty sniper. Kelly proves to be every bit the self-sacrificing hero we knew he was from the film’s opening moments, which makes him a much duller character than the film deserves. Jordan, gifted actor though he may be, never really finds a way to give Kelly the bitter, brutal edge he needs. There is no real ambiguity here, just pre-packaged muscle and grit.

This is particularly surprising given that the film was co-written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Stefano Sollima, who previously collaborated on Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018), a film that is all about moral and legal ambiguity and violence as the tie that binds the just and the unjust. The Italian-born Sollima again brings a dark visual intensity to the film, and the action sequences work on their own merit, but still fail to bring the various strands of the narrative together in an emotionally compelling way. It is a film of good parts that never quite pulls together, which makes it hard to justify its onerous focus on establishing a world from which future films may emerge.

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Overall Rating: (2.5)

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