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'Without Remorse' is enjoyable, but a masterclass in missed opportunities

Held together by strong action sequences and the prospect of Michael B. Jordan taking on the role of a fictional espionage icon, Without Remorse ultimately feels like a missed opportunity

By Ben Glennan, Third Year, Ancient History

Arriving on Amazon Prime Video this week is Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, a largely shallow espionage romp that is buoyed by gritty action sequences and the increasingly bankable star power of Michael B. Jordan.

Directed by Stefano Sollima, Without Remorse is based on the 1993 novel by Tom Clancy and follows ex-Navy Seal John Kelly as he pursues the men responsible for the murder of his wife and unborn child. Aided by the C.I.A., his quest for vengeance soon sheds light on a much wider international conspiracy.

Michael B. Jordan and Merab Ninidze in Without Remorse (2021) | Courtesy of IMDb / Nadja Klier

A spinoff of the more well-known Jack Ryan series of films, the strengths of ‘Without Remorse’ are in its tense action and strong lead performance. Typically shown less love than his analyst comrade, here Michael B. Jordan shows us the origin of spec-ops agent John Kelly before he became C.I.A. operator John Clark. Straying a fair bit from the novel, which is originally set during the Vietnam War, the film sings a typical tune of post-cold war espionage.

The usual suspects are all here; shady government officials, slimy intelligence officers, a couple of home invasions, newscasts constantly playing in the background. Nothing we have not seen before or executed with more flair. Jordan holds the show together with an emotional and typically physical performance, the action scenes are certainly the highlight with John Kelly doling out a serious amount of punishment. It borders on comic book at points but stays mostly within the realms of possibility, rather than taking on an entire prison à la The Raid (2011), simultaneously subduing four armoured guards is just about the most John Kelly can handle.

Jodie Turner-Smith and Michael B. Jordan in Without Remorse (2021) | Courtesy of IMDb 

Beyond the visceral action there is little however to keep one engaged beyond thinking this is yet another film I wish Tony Scott had made. The supporting cast which includes Jamie Bell and Guy Pearce are underutilised and the journey feels like it’s missing a few twists and turns. Co-written by Taylor Sheridan, of Sicario (2015) fame, the film certainly does not come close to the standards of such previous work, you are left feeling like Without Remorse serves as a foundation for further sequels rather than a tightly wound espionage thriller.

Indeed, with risk of minor spoilers ahead, an after credits scene that is amusingly reminiscent of Iron Man (2008) tees up a potential sequel that would presumably lead into the second John Clark novel, Rainbow Six. Whether this sequel (which had been on the cards prior to the Covid-19 pandemic) will ever see the light of day is likely now based on how well this VOD release does.

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Held together by strong action sequences and the prospect of Michael B. Jordan taking on the role of a fictional espionage icon, Without Remorse ultimately feels like a missed opportunity. Enjoyable, but excels neither as a revenge story or a spy thriller. A sequel which grapples with an established John Clark as he leads a counter terrorism team in the form of ‘Rainbow’ is enticing, however Without Remorse is added to the ever-growing list of films that just aren’t The Bourne Identity (2002).

Featured: IMDb, Nadja Klier

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