September 26, 2021

REEL VALUES

A FRESH LOOK AT FILM, TELEVISION, AND EMERGING PLATFORMS

Brought to You by the CIA: Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse

It was only a matter of time before Tom Clancy adaptations came back into the fold, and after two decades of development hell and multiple delays, Without Remorse is finally available for viewing on Amazon Prime. The pedigree behind the film is strong with Michael B. Jordan playing the Clancy icon John Kelly, Taylor Sheridan with a screenplay credit and Italian-arthouse director Stefano Sollima at the helm. Despite all of this talent, the film never rises above the mixed political messaging that underscores the action.

As with most adaptations of Tom Clancy’s work, the film varies vastly from the novel it’s based upon, which is not inherently a bad thing. The choice for the film to take place in contemporary times as opposed to the 1970’s creates the opportunity to portray current military tactics, as well as propagate current “Russiagate” tensions. In the case of the entertainment value for the film, this choice makes the action very worthwhile and the plot eye-roll inducing. Jordan’s portrayal of Kelly grounds the film nicely, even if the characters that surround him threaten to upset the realism of the film. The film is far more concerned with setting up Kelly as a future franchise lead in subsequent Rainbow Six films, which would not be unwelcome given the vitality he brings to the role. Jordan’s biggest strength as a performer has always been his physicality ( as per Creed or Black Panther), and it’s largely what sells the circumstances of the movie.

The narrative elements that undermine any ability for the film to tell a substantive story, are the supporting characters. Jodie Turner-Smith as Kelly’s commanding officer, Karen Greer, doesn’t quite sell the authority of the character. She simply does not carry herself as CO, and it always makes it seem odd that Kelly defers to her. The benefit here is that the film doesn’t try to shoehorn any awkward romance between the two characters. Given Kelly’s emotional state, it would be out of character, so it’s refreshing to have them be uncompromisingly professional with one another.

What’s most egregious about the script is its design of CIA agent Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), and Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce). The script thinks that it has adequately disguised their levels of trustworthiness, when in all actuality if you have seen a Steven Seagal movie, you’ll know exactly who can be trusted. It’s a shame because two of the best character actors of the century are left behind as a result. What they are used for instead is to humanize the bureaucrats and company men who falsify intelligence in order to justify the deployment of American soldiers on foreign lands.

As with all of Clancy’s works, there’s a traitor in the midst of the hero’s journey and when they are revealed to the audience, they spill out their philosophical guts. In this film, the proverbial guts are the fact that the villain needed to give the American people an enemy in Russia in order to unite them and kindle jingoist tendencies. It’s an interesting choice to actually spell this out, since its largely clear that in real life, stoking the fires of war with Russia (or China, or Iran or anyone really) helps the elites within the military industrial complex out more than it helps the American public. However, given that Kelly takes a few swings at the intelligence apparatus for putting guys like him in harm’s way, this only further fuels the division on this particular issue. This mixed messaging feels intentional, as Kelly takes on his pseudonym “Clark” at the film’s end in order to carry on as a black ops commander against international terrorists.

Essentially, the film has its cake and eats it too. It feigns ideological neutrality by bringing attention to both sides of an argument, only to later have its main character essentially take on the same position as the villains he just spent 90 minutes thwarting. It delegitimizes the valid criticisms of the media’s obsession with making Russia out to be the ultimate evil in modern history by having the villain take on that position. Moreover, “Clark” is tacitly in acceptance of the intelligence apparatus and its diabolical procedures and tactics. This twist is nothing short of insane and the audience would need to be psychotic to tag along. If this wasn’t already a part of the Hollywood agenda, then this kind of propaganda might be a surprise but unfortunately it is all too familiar.

What’s most disappointing is that if the film did not have such a sinister bend to it, it might be in the upper echelon of the genre. The high-contrast color language of the film, on top of the minimalist camera work make the action entirely legible and engrossing. The camera gives Jordan plenty of space to show off his proficiency with the stunt work, as well as the brutality of the choreography. Most other films like this would stretch the realism of the conflict, but in all actuality it’s entirely believable that Kelly has the body count that he does and survives the film. The score by Icelandic musician, Jónsi, is also appropriately aggressive and industrial, despite how subtle its melodies register with the audience. The music is felt throughout the film, and actually elevates a few sequences.

It will be interesting to see if Amazon or Paramount breathe more life into the John Kelly/Clark franchise with a Rainbow Six sequel. Based on technical and action-based merit, the film is entirely deserving of a sequel. The deciding factor is whether or not the audience is willing to be discombobulated and patronized again by the political underpinnings of this franchise. It’s disappointing that Tom Clancy’s excellent writings are being reworked to bring less scrutiny to our politicians and intelligence apparatus, the exact opposite of what he intended. Clearly, the writers have a low regard for their audience and it’s not to be appreciated. But then again, this is nothing we haven’t seen before.

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