It’s 2021 and anticipation of Without Remorse, an international action thriller movie based on Tom Clancy’s bestselling novel, has been twenty years long.
Unbelievably, Without Remorse has been in development for twenty years, shedding cast, crew and an original 90s script to begin filming in Berlin 2020 and on our screens this year.
The hero, John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan), is an elite-trained navy seal, taking no prisoners to destroy Russian paramilitary borders and avenge the murders of his wife and unborn child. Kelly has all the swipe-right justice and revenge promise of this genre’s gone-rogue operatives (think John Wick and Jason Bourne).
Covert CIA operatives form suspected Russian military alliances. Exotic fight scenes loaded with explosive firepower, pump-action the screen ablaze from above and below ground. But something is missing; there is no suspense or expectation of threat. And that leaves the bad guys, the Russian paramilitary mafia, not scary.
In fact, they’re awkward. In one high action scene, a horde of Russian police under siege by a located single sniper stand in the centre of a city intersection. They never duck for cover. Not one. Like the last stand in a great western movie, they shoot from the hip. Sure there is a tonne of big bang action scenes in this movie, but there is no terror in anticipation of those bangs. There is no setup.
Alfred Hitchcock, the master of creating suspense and audience terror in his famous ticking bomb analogy, said in every great thriller, the audience experience is in the ticking of the bomb and not the explosion.
The final killer of audience engagement in this movie is the lack of dynamic pace. The action scenes are lost beneath lingering, meaningful close-up stares or time in the editing suite not spent. And our hero ambled. He never displayed his elite navy seal mental toughness for making clever choices. Uncontested and with no real threat from ill-formed antagonistic forces, unfortunately, he and the movie meander like an action gaming figure never progressing past level two.
Perhaps the twenty-year development left a movie with great promise, losing the essence of what made it good in the first place.
John Kelly/Clark has been played in other Tom Clancy movies by Willem Dafoe in Clear and Present Danger (1994) and Liev Schreiber in The Sum of All Fears (2002). This is the story of how he came to be associated with the CIA.