We expect certain things from movies bearing Tom Clancy’s name, even if he isn't directly involved in making them. The very act of mentioning him in a title is a promise to the audience. Because the bar was set high by The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger, it's natural to expect action, intrigue, and thrills. Tom Clancy's Without Remorse delivers on the first of those things, yet stumbles on the other two. Apathy was not a feeling I anticipated going into this picture.
Michael B. Jordan plays John Clark, an elite Navy SEAL. He was part of a top-secret op to extract a hostage out of Aleppo. A dubious CIA official, Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), misled the team into thinking they might face a few mercenaries when, in fact, they were greeted by the Russian army. A bloody fire-fight ensued. Now Russian soldiers have made their way to America to kill the SEALs in retaliation. They murder Clark's pregnant wife and leave him for dead in the process. Upon recuperating, he sets out to avenge the slayings.
Is there a more worn-out story than that? Without Remorse is essentially Death Wish – or The Punisher, Hard to Kill, Taken, etc. -- with a Navy SEAL. The rickety premise could still work with proper plotting. That's where we get let down. Clark definitely kills a lot of bad guys in the movie, yet the villains are so poorly defined that we never root for them to receive their comeuppance. The means by which he tracks them down are hazy, too, meaning no suspense is ever truly built.
As for Clark, he's pretty single-minded. The guy was betrayed by the government, which led directly to his wife's demise. You'd think he would have it in for Ritter as much as for the Russians. Without Remorse glosses right over that. Because we've seen dozens of revenge dramas over the decades, having Clark declare war against his own "side" would be far more compelling than the standard shootouts and fistfights we actually get. Whenever the film starts to seem like it's going to go down a more gripping path, the screenplay suddenly turns back.
Good performances carry things to a point. Michael B. Jordan is typically excellent as the grieving Clark. He gets a few powerful scenes in which his character breaks down. The actor also makes a convincing action hero, even if some scenes are silly, like the one where Clark pours gasoline all over a bad guy's car, lights it on fire, and then crawls into the back seat to confront him. (Huh?) Jamie Bell is similarly solid as the untrustworthy Ritter, as is Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen & Slim) as a fellow SEAL bending a couple rules to help Clark out.
Actors aside, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is too thin in its story and too repetitive in its action sequences to make much of an impression. Enough violent mayhem is here to render it fairly watchable. Then again, who wants to settle for “fairly watchable” when we expect so much more substance from a Clancy adaptation?
out of four
Tom Clancy's Without Remorse is rated R for violence. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.