This modern-day adaptation of Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse puts into sharp focus the contrasting views of what makes a patriot.
Michael B. Jordan stars as our hero, John Kelly, an elite US Navy SEAL Senior Chief, who is on a mission in Syria to rescue a CIA operative. Upon arriving all is not well, with the CIA acting cagey and the reveal that the “enemy” was not at all who they thought. Despite the mission being not what was expected, Kelly and his team resume living their normal lives shortly after, until someone starts killing them off.
The story is not necessarily new or bold, it is a tale of a man who believed in the ideals of what it is to be a patriot, only to learn that the country he faithfully served does not love him back. This particular story is given another layer when the role of our typical white male hero is played by a Black actor, which adds another connotation to what it means to be unloved by one’s country. While screenwriters Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples do well enough to write a basic patriotic revenge plot and an international conspiracy thriller, the story never truly reckons with the harsh truths of being a Black individual in the service. In the end, Without Remorse is simply a reminder that while colour-blind casting is all well and good it needs a bit more to feel fully integrated into the story, especially with a narrative such as this.
Sheridan and Staples’ script is by the far the greatest hurdle to overcome in what would otherwise be a pleasant enough action-thriller. It dabbles in the ideas of what is true patriotism although never interrogates the concept further than maybe don’t use people as human chess pieces. The story is also overly simple in the sense that it is merely set up for John Kelly to be an action hero for a sprawling franchise, and with a strong creative hand moving forward it has the potential of being an epic series.
Without Remorse never truly feels like a complete story or one that is ever interested in what it is saying, just set up for what comes next. It also never overcomes the dire irony of a Black man risking his life for America, or for even believing in the lies on which American supremacy is founded. However, with Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods and Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in the periphery there is something to be said about mining this narrative further, but sadly Without Remorse is not overly concerned with that matter. Nor would it ever if a white actor was in the lead role. This is very much a “look at this badass guy doing badass things” type of action-thriller.
Despite being a by the numbers action-thriller the film is well paced and well directed. The action set pieces have a good sense of space and timing. The atmosphere is helped with a score that doesn’t overwhelm the scenes and allows for things to playout. The film does the job of giving Michael B. Jordan a staple stoic hero tortured by a great loss and grappling with the horror of being a pawn. He is a good enough actor that gives depth to what is a one-dimensional character. Jodie Turner-Smith is not given nearly enough to do to warrant her presence and furthermore never breaks from a rather stiff and straight-faced performance. Although, it may be wishful thinking to believe that the name Greer, is a nod to Black action heroine legend Pam Grier, however, both the role nor the script ever gives Turner-Smith the opportunity to unleash the charisma needed for such a comparison.
Stefano Sollima does a well-enough job in crafting a dark and suspenseful atmosphere for his action-thriller to flourish in – if only the script rose to meet his standards. While the film leaves a lot to be desired, it does set up a future franchise and with Jordan having an Amazon deal and the platform already invested in Tom Clancy’s other famous hero, Jack Ryan, it is safe to say the John Kelly, or John Clark, will be back. Hopefully, the next instalments up the ante and give Jordan and Turner-Smith something to really sink their teeth into.
Without Remorse debuts on Prime Video April 30
by Ferdosa Abdi