“Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” Review: Michael B. Jordan Gets in Action Movie-Franchise Mode

Michael B. Jordan in Without Remorse. Photo Courtesy: Amazon Studios

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, which opens on Amazon Prime on April 30, 2021, is the latest offering in the everchanging calendar of movie postponements and late releases caused by COVID-19.

The action-thriller — starring Michael B. Jordan (Creed) in this origin story about author Tom Clancy’s character John Clark — was initially intended for an October 2020 release in theaters, but it was postponed by studio Paramount Pictures and finally sold to Amazon Prime for a streaming debut. The streamer also has the TV show Jack Ryan, starring John Krasinski and Wendell Pierce, which is based in the same universe. Plus, similarly action-packed titles The Old Guard, Extraction and Triple Frontier have proved solid performers for rival Netflix.

Without Remorse — directed by Italian filmmaker Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado) and with a script by Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) and Will Staples (The Right Stuff) — lacks the artistry and idiosyncrasy of other recent Amazon movies like the two-time Oscar-winner Sound of Metal or the Oscar-nominated One Night in Miami, but I’m willing to bet it’ll be watched by many more people.

A Wink to the Action Flicks of the ‘80s and ‘90s

Michael B. Jordan in Without Remorse. Photo Courtesy: Amazon Studios

Jordan plays John Kelly-turned-Clark, an elite Navy SEAL whose pregnant wife gets killed by a squad of Russian soldiers. That prompts him down a path of revenge to try to uncover who was behind the attack and why. Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen & Slim) plays John’s commanding officer, Karen Greer. Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) is the ambiguous CIA agent Robert Ritter. Guy Pearce, Colman Domingo and Brett Gelman round out the cast of this international thriller in which the Russians are the bad guys once again and the hero will go to any length — and show no remorse — to avenge his family.

Without Remorse is going to give you some classic-action-flicks-from-the-‘80s-and-‘90s vibes. In Jordan’s performance and through his character’s arc, you’ll see hints of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo and even Bruce Willis’ Die Hard and Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon. Without Remorse works just as an action movie that never stops. Sollima dispenses with the artifices, opting for a story told in chronological order and shot in the least interfering way possible. Here, you won’t find 12-minute one-shot hand-to-hand combat sequences that pull you away from the fight and make you wonder how long the director can maintain the illusion of a single shot.

Sollima adds his share of precisely choreographed and shot-at-close-range hand-to-hand fights in this movie — the kind of sequences that have characterized the genre these last few years and that we owe to titles like the John Wick franchise. But he films them in the most pragmatic style: using cuts when they’re needed so that the viewer can follow the action and without making you feel the director’s presence hovering over the actors. Look out for a long, choreographed melee between Kelly and a group of Russian officers inside of a crumbling building. It reminded me of a certain stairwell fight sequence in Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde, albeit with less personality.

The movie distinguishes itself from ‘80s and ‘90s productions not only in the sophistication of its fighting stunts but also in the many underwater sequences it boasts. Let me just say there’s a scene of an airplane landing on something other than solid land. In preparation for his many water stunts in the movie, Jordan learned to hold his breath for right under three minutes. And that shows on the screen.

What Without Remorse achieves in terms of an engaging plot that never really stops, the movie lacks in uniqueness. The script is completely action-driven and keeps delivering at every turn. It continuously puts Kelly in situations where he needs to resort to his skills and resourcefulness — and take his shirt off. But even with Jordan and the charismatic Turner-Smith doing their most in delivering sympathetic performances, there’s really not much time left for the actors to show us who their characters are in between action-packed scenes.

The Bigger Message

Jodie Turner-Smith in Without Remorse. Photo Courtesy: Amazon Studios

There are other ways in which Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse proves that it’s not just an action flick made 20 years ago. Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber have played Clark before, just like there have been several iterations of Jack Ryan. But Jordan is the first Black actor to play the character. Through its protagonist, the movie attempts to comment on race in America.

“We served a country that didn’t love us back because we believed in what it could be,” Kelly tells Karen, who’s also Black, when talking about the choice they made to serve as Navy SEALs. But there’s not enough time in the movie to achieve a nuanced portrayal of this aspect.

Without Remorse gets a bit off-course in the depiction of the political conspiracy at the center of its plot. “A big country needs big enemies. The best enemy we ever had was the Soviet Union. Our fear of them unified our people, gave us purpose,” one of the shady characters in the film tells the protagonist while trying to tie in too many things at once.

I wasn’t that bothered by those flaws or the lack of subtlety. I found the biggest fault with Without Remorse was actually its absence of humor. Action is a genre best consumed with a side of jokes.

If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber and an action-genre enthusiast, you’ll probably find Without Remorse the perfect way to spend an evening. As tends to be customary with recent action fare, you need to stick with it to the very end of the movie for the mid-credits sequence. It doesn’t necessarily contribute any big reveal but paves the way for a new franchise with Jordan at the wheel.

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