Without Remorse should be trashy action-thriller fun, but is mostly a disappointment

Action thriller Without Remorse, based on Tom Clancy’s novel, stars Michael B. Jordan as an ex-Navy SEAL out for revenge. Sadly, what should be trashy action-thriller fun is mostly a disappointment, writes Daniel Rutledge.

This adaptation of a ’90s Tom Clancy novel should be trashy action-thriller fun but is mostly a disappointment. The setup is really good, using actual recent conflict and the current geopolitical situation as a great jumping-off point. The Syrian Civil War and frosty Russo/US relationship are brilliant real-world touchstones that give this an edge over action thrillers whose characters and government agencies are entirely make-believe. Unfortunately, that’s all squandered on a rote narrative that’s as predictable as it is silly. I’d be totally fine with predictability and silliness if the action was good enough, but it’s not.

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Which isn’t to say there’s nothing to enjoy. There’s plenty of shootouts and they’re all totally fine, if somewhat forgettable. The bigger set pieces are less agreeable, particularly a CG plane crash that should be spectacular but is instead a total bore. Average digital effects also hamper the excitement of one of the film’s best bits—the one teased in the trailer where our antihero John Kelly sets a car on fire and then hops inside to interrogate and torture the occupants.

That scene is perhaps the greatest example of the mean streak that runs through Without Remorse, as Kelly callously maims and kills unarmed people to get information that’ll help him get the ultimate revenge he seeks. But as was the case with director Stefano Sollima and writer Taylor Sheridan’s previous collaboration, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, that meanness doesn’t feel quite right like it would with other filmmakers who’d use it to add an exciting potency. It’s hard to say why that stuff feels a bit icky here, but it’s something about the rah-rah tone and American jingoism.

Michael B. Jordan is a terrific actor, whether he’s being one of the most emotionally devastating characters in The Wire or the best villain yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But in Without Remorse he’s unfortunately not very compelling as a broken, grieving, ferocious warrior. It’s a fairly one-dimensional performance that’s nowhere near as interesting as what he did with Killmonger in Black Panther. But he’s still cool and less mediocre than a lot of other elements of this movie.

As for the rest of the cast, Jodie Turner-Smith and Jamie Bell are the most noteworthy supporting actors, both turning in impressive performances. The same can’t be said for Guy Pearce, who seems miscast as the US Secretary eagerly encouraging Kelly’s campaign of international terror, despite disapproval from the CIA. This is the weakest role in the film, although in fairness to Pearce that’s more due to the writing than it is his acting. It’s honestly hard to believe this script comes from the guy who wrote Hell or High Water and Sicario.

Ultimately, Without Remorse is a frustrating watch. It’s got flashes of decent action that never get truly thrilling, and it’s got the bones of what could’ve been an exciting narrative along with a great leading man who can’t quite elevate it to greatness. Worth a watch if you love this sort of schlock and are forgiving of middling examples of it.