The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Amazon Prime Video] - WITHOUT REMORSE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Amazon Prime Video] - WITHOUT REMORSE

without remorse review
A Navy SEAL hunts down those responsible for the murder of his pregnant wife.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Stefano Sollima

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Guy Pearce, Colman Domingo

without remorse poster

Matt Damon's Jason Bourne changed the American action hero overnight in 2002. Gone were the wise-cracking beefcakes, replaced by a new breed of reluctant, emotionally tortured heroes victimised as much by their own state as by any foreign enemy. Hollywood has been trying in vain to replicate the formula of the Bourne movies ever since, with director Stefano Sollima's Without Remorse the latest attempt to kickstart a franchise set in the murky world of international espionage.

An in-name-only adaptation of Tom Clancy's 1993 novel, Without Remorse serves as an origin story for the recurring Clancy character John Clark, known as John Kelly when we're introduced to him as a Navy SEAL on a secret mission in Syria. Played by Michael B. Jordan, Kelly is a loyal soldier who finds himself disillusioned when his unit is kept in the dark regarding the detail that their mission involves facing Russian soldiers.

without remorse review

Upon returning home to the States, the members of Kelly's unit are picked off one by one in a series of hits (in what feels like an homage to the opening of Commando). When a squad of assassins arrives at Kelly's home, they unwittingly kill his pregnant wife before being taken out by Kelly – all except one hitman who escapes. Pulling in a favour from his unit leader Karen (Jodie Turner-Smith in a strong audition for her own Clancy-verse spin-off), Kelly acquires some info about who might be behind his wife's murder and sets out for revenge.

I can't say I've ever been a fan of Tom Clancy, but with the triumvirate of the director of Suburra (Sollima), the star of Creed (Jordan) and the writer of Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan) involved, I had high expectations for Without Remorse. Sadly it seems like all three have had something of an off day here, delivering a movie that plays like a tired attempt to create a Bourne rival, one whose heart isn't really in it.

without remorse review

Based on his work on Italian gangster epic Suburra and under-appreciated sequel Sicario 2, you might expect Sollima's filmmaking to be as muscular as his leading man's torso, but his action set-pieces here feel flat and are hampered by some confusing geography. I know his character is meant to be emotionally hollow due to his personal loss, but Jordan sleepwalks through his role here, with Turner-Smith owning every scene they share. Sheridan and co-writer Will Staples have constructed the most generic story-line imaginable - you won’t need to be a keen-eyed sniper to spot the twist coming, as it's the same twist that crops up in all of these movies.

Hitchcock famously beat himself up over his decision to have a child killed onscreen in his 1936 thriller Sabotage. He reasoned that he should have made the audience fear for the safety of the boy, but once he blew him up in a bus explosion it was difficult for the audience to engage with the rest of the movie because the worst possible outcome had already happened. By killing Kelly's pregnant wife at the start of Without Remorse, Sollima, Sheridan and Staples have made the very same error. That's practically the worst thing that could have happened to our protagonist, and it's difficult to get invested in the ensuing drama because of it. Also, when you have a protagonist who doesn’t care if he lives or dies once he gets revenge, it's difficult for the audience to care about his well-being. Rather than fearing for Kelly, we're left to passively observe as he uncovers an all-too familiar conspiracy. Besides, aren't we past this dated trope of "fridging" the hero's female partner to inspire his revenge?

without remorse review

There's a moment during a set-piece in which our heroes think they've evaded a sniper only to discover there's a second gunman. We learn this not because we see the second sniper, but because a character literally yells out "There's a second sniper!!!" This is indicative of the clunky storytelling at play here, with a plot that unfolds in a manner that suggests the screenwriters are making this up on the fly, like a kid constantly changing the rules to ensure he remains in a game of tag. The twist is so obvious that you wonder why the movie didn't just show its hand straight off. This would have made for a more suspenseful experience, as we would have known exactly what Kelly was up against and when he was in real danger.

Without Remorse could be confused for a TV pilot, not just in its origin story but in its apparent lack of a budget. It takes place in a curiously depopulated world with scenes that are all too obviously backlot bound. Its showpiece sequence takes place in a residential district of a Russian city, but where are the people? Didn't the budget stretch to extras, or at least some convincing background noise?

It's difficult to imagine audiences clamouring for the further adventures of John Kelly/Clark, as this potential franchise runs out of ideas halfway through its first instalment.

Without Remorse is on Amazon Prime Video from April 30th.

2021 movie reviews