Available Friday on Amazon Prime, “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” is the sixth feature film based on a Clancy novel, and the first to focus on Clancy’s other famous spy, John Clark, rather than Jack Ryan.
Formerly portrayed by Willem Dafoe in 1994’s “Clear and Present Danger” and Liev Schreiber in 2002’s “The Sum of All Fears,” Clark is now played by Michael B. Jordan, of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” fame.
It’s largely thanks to the powerful, charismatic Jordan that the movie works as well as it does; it effortlessly becomes the most entertaining Clancy movie since the days of Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin.
Credit is also due to director Stefano Sollima, whose “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” was a sturdy sequel to the superior “Sicario,” and to co-writer Taylor Sheridan, who wrote both “Sicario” movies as well as the Oscar-nominated “Hell or High Water.”
It’s no joke adapting a Clancy book to the screen, distilling upwards of 600 or 700 pages into a 120-page script, writing all that espionage dialogue without making it sound like exposition and bringing the action without relying too heavily on it.
“Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” does all that, while also updating the novel, which was published in 1993, from the Vietnam War in the 1970s to present day.
At its essence, it’s nothing more than a simple, boiled-down revenge story — but it does feel like a lean, trim neatly-paced action movie.
Jordan’s John Clark begins the film as “John Kelly” (stick around for a post-credits sequence to learn why), a badass Navy SEAL.
Kelly and his team are in war-torn Aleppo, Syria, rescuing a kidnapped CIA agent. Unfortunately, Kelly learns that Russians are involved.
Some time later, members of Kelly’s team begin dying, although in largely implausible ways, especially for trained SEALs.
It’s not long before four bad guys arrive at Kelly’s house. He takes out three of them, and one escapes, but not before they manage to kill Kelly’s pregnant wife (Lauren London). Very bad move.
The CIA is unable to identify the fourth man, and discourages Kelly from taking any further action. Very bad idea.
When Kelly’s friend, Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), finds a lead, Kelly smashes a van into the man’s car, lights it on fire, climbs into the burning car, points a gun at the man’s head, and calmly says, “Give me a name.”
Eventually, an elite team that includes Greer, Kelly and dodgy CIA man Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) must attempt a dangerous mission, covertly heading into Russia to try and stop whoever is behind all of this.
It’s disappointingly easy to figure out who it is, but the villain’s confession speech is still pretty chilling, and eerily relevant.
Meanwhile, the filmmakers cook up spectacularly tense set-pieces that will surely make viewers grip the couch cushions.
While in jail — thanks to his stunt with the burning car — Kelly is attacked in his cell. He clogs up a sink with his shirt, creating a slippery surface, and then proceeds, shirtless, to take out a bunch of thugs in full riot gear.
Another unbelievably gripping stunt involves a downed airplane filling with water; rather than heading to safety, Kelly swims deeper into the sinking plane to rescue the team’s all-important gear.
During the climax, Kelly finds himself alone, facing an onslaught of Russians, and director Sollima keeps Jordan busy; he’s injured, exhausted, and a little off-balance, but still fighting with everything he’s got.
This kind of energy made Jordan such a standout in “Black Panther,” and such a complex villain, rooting his muscular fights in all-too-human concerns.
Unlike the last two Jack Ryans, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine, Jordan feels at home. He’s not just cast for his looks; he has a deeper quality that makes him believable either as a superspy or as an ordinary guy.
It’s also great to see Turner-Smith, of “Queen & Slim,” in an unapologetically powerful role; tall and no-nonsense, she’s a quiet, commanding presence and crucial to the story. Women in this genre are usually little more than set decoration.
Ultimately “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” can’t quite touch the reigning king of Clancy movies, 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October,” for the simple reason that Kelly doesn’t have an equal opponent. It was fun to see Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery in a tense, strategic battle of wits. Here, no one is a match for Kelly, and especially not the “secret” villain.
For all its flaws, and despite small efforts to seem socially and politically relevant, “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” is tough enough that it manages to comes out as a slick, exciting entertainment.
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Guy Pearce
Directed by: Stefano Sollima
Written by: Taylor Sheridan, Will Staples
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes