Without Remorse review: Michael B Jordan's flawed thriller is still a perfect Friday night movie
This Tom Clancy adaptation is a mixed bag, but its star shines as lead character John Kelly.
By: Eammon Jacobs
After Russian assassins murder his wife and unborn child in revenge for an operation gone wrong, Michael B Jordan’s John Kelly sets out on a mission of vengeance to make sure those who sanctioned their deaths get what’s coming to them. But as he investigates further into the attack, the US Navy SEAL stumbles onto a sinister plot which aims to start a tense war between America and Russia for reasons unknown.
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a weirdly mixed bag. It starts with a shaky by-the-numbers set up (A dead wife? In an action thriller? Groundbreaking...) as Kelly sets out on his payback mission in a story that feels like Shooter crossed with Marvel’s The Punisher. Although the stereotypical globetrotting conspiracy does feature plenty of action to let Jordan really shine in some fast-paced fight scenes. And let’s face it, his title as a US Navy SEAL Senior Chief is just a fancy way of saying he can take on an entire prison riot squad by himself. But the soldier uses brains as well as brawn, meticulously planning various confrontations in ways that give him the advantage.
A stand-out moment (seen in the trailer) sees him cause havoc for a Russian convoy using the US police and a terrorism accusation before assaulting a particular vehicle by setting off a fiery inferno and interrogating the politician inside it. The film might not reinvent the wheel, but it does keep audiences on their toes. As John Kelly himself puts it, “some situations warrant thinking outside the box”. Well, Without Remorse has one foot in the box, and one foot out of it.
Jordan is surrounded by a talented cast, who are slightly underused in favour of giving the star the spotlight. Jamie Bell appears in a supporting role as slimy CIA operative Robert Ritter, and his shady plans create a tense dynamic with Jordan, which makes for an interesting ongoing feud.
Perhaps most under-utilised of all is Jodie Turner-Smith’s Karen Greer, who (aside from one brief fight) simply acts as John’s moral compass thanks to their sibling-like dynamic as she attempts to keep him on the straight and narrow. Not that it does much good, because the bitter soldier is an unrelenting force of nature - breezing through his enemies until his body can’t take anymore. In a world filled with movies about superpowers and seemingly untouchable action heroes, it’s refreshing to see fights actually take their toll on the main character. It reminds us that despite all of his military training, John Kelly is still human.
The film’s dialogue is just as fallible though, as it’s filled with clunky moments which seem like they were written solely for moody trailer narration. One back-and-forth conversation between John and Guy Pearce’s Senator Clay about a Russian agent feels painfully clunky and drawn out seemingly for no reason other than extending the run-time.
Without Remorse does occasionally grab the opportunity to discuss social-political themes which feel surprisingly relevant. A stand-out moment between Jordan and Turner-Smith sees the Creed and Black Panther star monologue about how the pair “served a country that didn’t love us back” and that they “fought for what America could be” after being wrongfully imprisoned. In these moments, the screenplay from Tyler Sheridan and Will Staples feels very timely, helping to ground John Kelly firmly in the present, while the 1993 Tom Clancy book that the film is based on is much, much different. (The original story sees John in the 1970s seeking revenge for the death of a prostitute at the hands of a drug-dealing gang with ties to Vietnam, rather than a nefarious conspiracy involving Russia.)
Once all is said and done though, there’s still some legwork that needs to be done in tying up the loose ends and the conclusion behind the entire conspiracy isn’t as smooth as the film thinks it is. Without Remorse is undeniably an entertaining, fast-paced action thriller but certain clues as to what’s really going on are lost among Kelly’s furious pursuit for vengeance - making the finale a little underwhelming.
That being said, Michael B Jordan once again proves that he can carry the leading man role with ease, and the all-important sequel bait will no doubt excite fans of the Tom Clancy franchise as a whole. Will Without Remorse win all the awards at next year’s Oscars? Probably not. But is it a perfect Friday night movie? Absolutely.