THE SCREEN SCENE (WRBL) – It’s easy to forget that Tom Clancy was a major brand in the 1980s and 90s. His novels topped the bestseller lists. The literary Mount Rushmore of the era was Stephen King, John Grisham and Clancy. Even President Ronald Reagan gave a blurb review for the paperback of the submarine warfare thriller, The Hunt for Red October.
In the 1990s the Jack Ryan films, starring Alec Baldwin and then Harrison Ford as the family man turned spy, blew up the box office. But following Clancy’s death in 2013, his brand began to fade. The Clancy estate found a variety of coauthors to carry on the publishing empire, but the film adaptations mostly ground to a halt.
Now Amazon is attempting to relaunch an arm of the Clancy franchise, special forces operative John Kelly a/k/a John Clark. Portrayed by Willem Dafoe in 1994’s Clear and Present Danger and by Liev Schreiber in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, Clark has been sitting on the Intellectual Property shelf for nearly twenty years. John Kelly is no longer a Vietnam vet. He’s a modern-day special forces soldier played by Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) who is no stranger to the world of franchise films.
This latest reboot, Without Remorse, finds Navy SEAL John Kelly on the verge of retirement. He lives in a beautiful house in the suburbs. (Who knew the military paid so well?) He has a beautiful wife who’s expecting their first child. So naturally Kelly goes on one last mission, everything goes perfectly and the Kelly family walks off into the sunset.
No chance. This is the first film in a potential Amazon franchise. We’ve all seen enough action films featuring elite soldiers. It’s a lonely path for those cinematic heroes, and their personal lives are usually in a shambles. As you would expect, that one last mission goes horribly wrong and leaves Kelly on a Russian hit list. In short order, the enemy arrives to get even with Kelly’s SEAL team.
Without Remorse is not a low budget attempt to cash in on its popular source material. It’s not a cheap, straight to VOD film. The money is on the screen, as they like to say in the film business. You also have an A-list young star in the lead with Jordan. He more than has the acting chops to bring credibility to a character who could be a cardboard cutout in lesser hands. The weakness to the film is the screenplay delivered by Taylor Sheridan, and that’s hard for me to believe. Sheridan wrote the screenplay for Sicario and the 2016 neo-Western Hell or High Water, a modern crime classic. So it’s surprising Without Remorse has so many gaps in the storytelling. It plays like a series of plot beats with no connective tissue. Maybe there was a far better draft that got watered down by “notes” from Amazon executives, but the version that survived is a giant pile of… clichés.
After the last round is fired and the last car explodes, Without Remorse proves itself to be “good enough.” That’s not exactly a rave review, but the film isn’t worthy of high praise. It’s a reboot of a character that first appeared nearly thirty years ago, and there are going to be some growing pains along the way. If you are a fan of the Tom Clancy world of spies and special ops soldiers, this film will keep you entertained. If this isn’t your usual cinematic bag, there’s nothing about Without Remorse that will change your mind.
Without Remorse is currently playing on Amazon Prime.