Friday, April 30, 2021

“Tom Clancy’s” Without Remorse

How would you feel about a new film adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale that made the fundamentalist Sons of Jacob the heroes? Would it be okay if it maintained the same title and character names? At least John Kelly is still the hero of Amazon’s new Tom Clancy film. However, the implications of his story are now very different from what the author intended. According to IMDb, it is officially called “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,” but he might not have agreed when it premieres today on Amazon Prime.

Senior Chief John Kelly of the US Navy SEALs is a badass, who is planning his exit strategy from the military, so he can be at home for his pregnant wife and soon-to-be born daughter. Tragically, they are both assassinated, in retaliation for an operation targeting a clandestine Russian operation in Syria. Rather ill-advisedly, they leave the critically wounded Kelly still breathing.

Naturally, when he recovers, he strikes back against the Russians hard. He soon lands himself in prison, but his old colleague, Lieutenant Commander Karen Greer (daughter of Admiral Greer, a.k.a. James Earl Jones in the
Hunt for Red October movie) pulls strings to spring him, in exchange for the intel he uncovered. Despite her better judgement, he inevitably leads the double-secret covert op into Russia.

So far, so good, Ryanverse fans might think, even though the Vietnam War and Baltimore drug gangs from the book are conspicuously missing. Yet, they are likely to be disappointed by the big reveal. Clancy’s books always respected the service and sacrifice of America’s military and intelligence services. He clearly suggested America was a force for good in the world and our enemies were a danger to all. In contrast, Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples’ screenplay is very le Carré-esque, positing a moral equivalency between America and Russia, while positioning a hawkish neo-Cold Warrior as the supposedly-secret-but-conspicuously-obvious villain.

One wonders why Sheridan, Staples, and director Stefano Sollima bothered adapting Clancy’s novel when they clearly had no affinity for its story. Even if producing a 1960s period thriller would be too expensive for a cash-strapped start-up like Amazon, they could have credibly transposed the story to the Iraq War, while retaining Kelly’s one-man war against the street thugs that killed his wife.

On the plus side, Sollima stages a handful of impressively cinematic action sequences. Michael B. Jordan broods hard and looks appropriately fierce during Kelly’s fight scenes. The interplay between him and Jamie Bell (playing snarky CIA agent Robert Ritter) also grows increasingly more interesting as the film goes on. Unfortunately, Brett Gelman and Thesp X are dull and underwhelming as the ostensive villain and hiding-in-plain-sight mastermind.

Years ago, the great John Milius was attached to direct
Without Remorse, which would have been epic. Alas, we did not get that film. Sollima and Jordan give us a cool prison fight scene and a well-produced climatic shoot-out, but there isn’t much more to it. Clancy’s critique probably would have been even more withering. Not recommended, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse starts streaming today (4/30) on Amazon Prime.