Whenever you see a writer’s name in the official title of a movie, you should know just what to expect. Neil Simon. Stephen King. John Grisham. Jane Austen.
When the name is Tom Clancy, you can be sure it’ll feature a hero who’s called to action in an adventure with some political intrigue, where the outcome relies on his ability to kill the enemy at the last minute. In “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,” the hero is John Kelly, a Navy SEAL played by Michael B. Jordan.
As the movie begins, Kelly and his fellow SEALs are executing a hostage rescue in Aleppo, Syria, for the CIA. Something smells bad when Kelly discovers that the hostage holders are Russians, not Syrians, but the team does its job and gets out of there. Back in the US three months later, Kelly is considering retiring from the military to spend more time with his pregnant wife, Pam — but has any lead character in a movie actually managed to depart their career as a warrior without going on one last mission? Nope, and neither will Kelly, especially when things turn bad.
It turns out that the Russians have tracked down the SEALs in their hometowns and begun to execute them. They have their sights set on Kelly, too. They show up at his house late one night, sneak in, go upstairs, and shoot John and Pam in their bed. What they don’t know is that John wasn’t in the bed — he’s been downstairs on the couch listening to music with headphones on. Kelly becomes aware of their presence too late to save his wife, but is able to kill three of the assailants. A fourth gets away.
Now you’ve got a revenge story, and pretty soon Kelly and other SEALs are on their way to Russia to track down whoever ordered the hits and even the score. As they were in Syria, they’re led by Lieutenant Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith, so good in her debut role in “Queen and Slim,” which I reviewed here), operating under orders of the same CIA officer (Jamie Bell) who gave them the mission in Aleppo. Several well-choreographed fight scenes ensue while the mission’s true goal becomes less clear.
Director Stefano Sollima keeps the plot moving for a tight 100 minutes and doesn’t over-edit the battle scenes as so many other modern filmmakers do. “Without Remorse” was adapted from Clancy’s book by Will Staples — whose work on video games no doubt influenced the look of the action sequences — and Taylor Sheridan, screenwriter of “Hell or High Water” and the underrated “Wind River” (which I reviewed here). I was happy to see their script did not involve a love story between Kelly and Greer, but I grimaced when he turned to her during the climactic gunfight to say, “I can die here.” No, you can’t. You’re the hero of the piece. Besides, you’re going to be back in the sequel.
Michael B. Jordan — who is always good in everything he does — has already signed for a sequel, “Rainbow Six,” based on Clancy’s second book in the series, a spinoff from his Jack Ryan universe. It’s interesting to note that Clancy’s novels began in the Cold War era, when he could easily use Soviets as the antagonists. In the intervening years, movies had moved away from that cliché to portray Muslims, Chinese, and North Korean villains. Now, with tensions between the US and Russia simmering again, we’ve come full circle.
If you’re into the machinations of the Clancy genre, you may enjoy “Without Remorse.” I give it a 6 out of 10. Starts streaming tomorrow on Amazon Prime.