How 'Without Remorse' is Flawed but Gritty As Ever
Updated: May 1
Without Remorse, which just dropped on Amazon Prime Video this Friday April 30, 2021, marks Michael B. Jordan's return to action films since 2018's Black Panther and Creed II. The film is based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name published in 1993 and set during the Vietnam War (Clancy's John Kelly is a Vietnam War Veteran in the novel). The film adaptation was in development as early as the mid-90's and included Keanu Reeves, and later Laurence Fishburne and Gary Sinise, and even later in 2012, Tom Hardy on the short list of actors to play the role until Michael B. Jordan was attached. All of this is a preamble to say the film, while demonstrating competent and intense action sequences, feels a little old fashioned in it's themes and execution. While also feeling obligated to set up a potential Rainbow Six John Clark sequel.
Let's talk about the good first. Michael B. Jordan shines, as expected, as tortured ex-Navy SEAL, John Kelly who is out for blood when his wife and unborn daughter are executed by Russian operatives. The political interagency world building and spy craft suspense is straight out of a Clancy novel and it feels familiar yet engagingly prescient with a black ex-soldier fighting for a country that could have been (Falcon and the Winter Soldier most recently addressed this, as well). Jordan taps into that justified uninhibited rage really well but it seems this specific grizzled war veteran's viewpoint was written for an older actor, yet he still pulls it off. The pin pointed and focused retaliation of his, now very personal, vendetta of a mission comes to a crescendo in an incredibly choreographed hand to hand combat sequence in a Russian prison cell which really shows Jordan's hard physical training pay off.
The execution of the war and fight sequences are a plus and climaxes in the film's ending suicide mission to escape a demolished apartment building. It's always fantastic to see 2020 People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive flex his proverbial action star muscles. But the thematic elements, to me, are what seemed a bit under developed and thus not as hard hitting. The idea of a black soldier out for revenge against the people (and government officials) who hired him is incredibly First Blood (Stallone reference, what?) and would have been the logical thematic through point. But, here, the writers are playing it safe and opting for a predictable by the numbers action war movie. Italian director Stefano Solima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado) and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples are no strangers to action war espionage thrillers but here it seems like they are phoning it in, very competently however.
If it sounds like I was mildly disappointed with the film, it's probably because I didn't manage my expectations. The trailer had the film set out to be a straight up revenge action thriller movie. And I was half expecting Jordan's John Kelly to just mastermind the heck out of the entire film. Like something out of an old 80's Death Wish type B-movie. And to be honest it probably would've felt more at home in that kind of genre. But they did the best that they could with the under developed script that they got (Taylor Sheridan's patented focus on character is traded in for an over-complicated plot - probably a result of a rewrite). Jodie Turner-Smith was the unexpected breakout, for me, as Lt. Commander Karen Greer. While Guy Pearce and Jamie Bell are seen a mile away as potential mustache twirling plot twist villains. Overall it's a decent action movie but don't expect anything more.
Without Remorse is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video.