‘Without Remorse’: Read the book instead

Boyce Rucker, Contributing Writer

With the arrival of recent action films in the past decade, such as the “John Wick” series and “The Raid” duology, it has become evident that action films need a gimmick or standout feature to be successful. 

The factors could include intricate stunt choreography, an enthralling lead performance or a compelling story where the action feels fitting rather than misplaced or random. When one thinks of the films based on the novels of Tom Clancy, viewers can expect political intrigue blended with high-octane thrills or action. 

Released on Amazon Prime Video on April 30 “Without Remorse” is the latest Tom Clancy film adaptation since “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (2014). Loosely based on the novel of the same name, “Without Remorse” integrates itself into the continuity established by Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” TV series and acts as a re-introduction to the John Clark character, portrayed by Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber in previous films. While the film seems like the perfect setup for a Clancy cinematic universe, it makes the mistake of making itself into a generic and predictable action thriller that carries a muddled plotline. 

Michael B. Jordan in “Without Remorse”(2021). (Stefano Sollima/Paramount Pictures)

The film follows Navy SEAL John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) after he returns to the U.S. after leading a covert mission in Syria that could cause an international conflict. As retaliation for his role in the mission, Kelly and his team are targeted at their U.S. homes by Russian operatives. In the attack against Kelly, his pregnant wife (Lauren London) is killed and he is left for dead. Motivated by revenge, Kelly embarks on a violent mission to find his wife’s killer and uncover the conspiracy that could result in an all-out war between the U.S. and Russia.

The film carries a conventional revenge narrative that does not feel exciting or innovative. While viewers can easily predict the murder of Kelly’s wife, the flaw is that there is no emotional weight to her death as we only see her for a few minutes; she is simply there to motivate the plot. The plot feels very bland as it never actually delves into character development and fails to make sense of the events that take place in its runtime. 

Nadja Klier and Michael B. Jordan in “Without Remorse” (2021). (Stefano Sollima/Paramount Pictures)

Rather than slowly building tension, the film just incorporates non-believable action sequences for the sake of keeping attention; however, the placement of these sequences wastes time that could have easily been used towards character moments or plot details. Even then, the narrative just is not compelling and does not carry the intrigue that could be found in earlier Tom Clancy films, particularly because the film only shares the title and a small number of characters with the original novel.

It can be said that the main draw of the film is Michael B. Jordan, but he is not given the chance to explore the different sides of Kelly from the novel. Jordan portrays Kelly as a brutal and resourceful action hero, almost in the vein of Jason Bourne, but he still comes off as being one-dimensional for the majority of the film due to lack of character development and no chance to actually connect with him. The supporting cast, consisting of Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, and Guy Pearce are good performers but their characters are quite forgettable; the characters appear like they are simply there as a fan service to those who have read the Clancy novels.

Jodie Turner-Smith and Michael B. Jordan in “Without Remorse” (2021). (Stefano Sollima/Paramount Pictures)

The action sequences are unrealistic and do not feel logical in how they are supposed to relate to the plot. Given how the trailers for the film highlight some of the bigger action sequences, it can be seen how these sequences lose their intensity and do not feel as weighty at all in the context of the film; in other words, the action is just there to appeal to mass audiences.  Additionally, it never feels like the film utilizes the R-rating to its advantage; the action sequences are nearly bloodless, there is no weight to the fight or shootout scenes and the plot becomes obvious in the third act. Again, this is another deviation from the original novel, which has been praised for its dark, grounded and gritty action.

“Without Remorse” is a film that fails to set itself apart from other action films as it tells a conventional revenge story that doesn’t utilize its cast or action to the best of its ability. For Clancy fans, this is a disappointing adaptation that fails to showcase the nuance and strength in the John Clark character. Unremorsefully, viewers can find a unique story in the original novel rather than settling for the genericness of its adaptation.