A flash but forgettable new Amazon title card introduces us to Without Remorse, and it’s a sign of things to come. The latest Michael B Jordan star vehicle has plenty going for it: directed by Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado) and co-written by Taylor Sheridan (also of the Sicario franchise fame, and director of Wind River), Jordan’s able cast of co-stars includes Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith and Guy Pearce. It’s also a pretty straight adaptation of the 1993 Tom Clancy bestseller, which follows Navy SEAL John Kelly (Jordan) as he enacts vengeance on some Russians who hit a bit too close to home. What could go wrong?
A number of things, it seems. But first, the functional. Sollima can direct genuinely thrilling action set pieces, and feels at home with Clancy’s source material. The producers have clearly gone to town budget-wise, constructing warzone sets and armies of armoured vehicles as bulletproof as Jamie Bell’s American accent. (Thankfully, a tad more than Guy Pearce’s American accent.) Jordan remains one of Hollywood’s most exciting young actors. His charisma, easy charm and quite stunning physique make almost any movie he’s in worth watching. Almost.
Unfortunately, Without Remorse is basically paint by numbers and made up of very little we haven’t seen before. Clancy’s books are successful to the point that they have become generic. Some half-baked attempts to wrestle with America’s often hapless presence abroad prove only a hint at what could’ve been, but isn’t. And Sollima isn’t especially convincing as a director when the bullets aren’t flying.
Yet the biggest disappointments are surely Sheridan (who has written brilliantly before) and Jordan, who really ought to be doing more ambitious work than this.
Then there’s the violence, which (as with Day of the Soldado) is cold and clinical and offers no window into the thoughts and feelings of Jordan’s hero whatsoever. People are gunned down left, right and centre, and it doesn’t seem to matter. Make that the thesis of your movie and we might get somewhere, but Without Remorse is far too distracted by the spectacle. I don’t believe gangster films and Call of Duty have numbed audiences to the horrors of violence, but Without Remorse is a pretty good case for the prosecution.
All that mediocrity would be forgivable if Without Remorse was any fun. It isn’t. A convoluted and at times unintelligible plot merely serves to set up the most elaborate action sequence Sheridan and Sollima can devise – and even then the pay-off is fleeting. More often than not, this is the kind of movie where people say things like “We’ll take it from here” and “I have the skills to do the job”, but not much more. Amazon has calculated the audience for that kind of thing makes Without Remorse financially worthwhile. By any other metric, it isn’t.