If you took all the gun play out of “Without Remorse,” the new Michael B. Jordan thriller on Amazon Prime Video, the movie would only be about 10 minutes long. The Tom Clancy adaptation is a bullet ballet that plays like a throwback to 80s matinee action movies.
When we first meet John Clark (Jordan) he’s leading an elite team of US Navy SEALs on a dangerous top-secret mission in Syria to liberate a CIA operative taken hostage by ex-Russian military forces.
Cut to three months later. Back in the United States, the quiet life Clark and his pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London) have created for themselves is shattered by Russian assassins who invade their home. Looking for revenge, the Russian hit team kill Pam before Clark is able to off three of the four hitmen. The fourth gunman fires back, leaving Clark for dead, riddled with bullets.
As Clark recuperates in hospital, his colleagues, SEAL Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), CIA agent Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) and Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce), determine how to best respond to a Russian attack on U.S. soil.
Not satisfied with the official way of doing things, Clark becomes a one-man army, seeking revenge and answers. He is the very definition of a man you don’t want to mess with. He’s a killing machine, especially when you take away the only thing he had to live for. He tracks down a Russian diplomat he thinks is responsible for the murder of his wife and coerces information out of him in a spectacular and completely illegal way. “They brought the war to my house,” he says. “The contract is broken. They’re going to play by my rules now.”
His act of retribution lands him in prison but he’s able to trade the sensitive information he garnered in his one-man mission for a second chance at revenge. This time with the cooperation of the CIA and military.
One secretive flight to Russia later, cue the carnage and conspiracy.
“Without Remorse” is an extremely violent movie with more bullets than brains.
Director Stefano Sollima stages intense action scenes and isn’t afraid to let the bodies fall where they may. Unfortunately, it’s in the handling of the other stuff, the intrigue, that the movie comes up short. In between bullet blasts a conspiracy slowly comes into focus, but it is never developed. Buried beneath an ever-increasing body count is the broader and more interesting picture of governmental tampering with world politics. Countries need outside enemies, it is suggested, or people will turn on their neighbors looking for someone to hate. It’s a timely message, a bit of debatable ideology, that could have been the underpinning for a rich subplot. Instead, “Without Remorse” is a standard issue shoot ‘em up.
Jordan brings charisma and physicality to the role, but is saddled with Steven Seagal-level dialogue. “Death follows me around,” he says in a line that could be from any number of direct-to-DVD action films from the last thirty years.
“Without Remorse” starts off with a bang—many of them in fact—but ends as a regression to cold war paranoia fuelled by bullets and brawn.